On Frederick Douglass and Learning


It has been far too long since my last post and I wanted to write a bit about education. I am currently attaining my Master’s Degree in STEM Education and for my current class we had a reading from “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”. The following is my written response that I will be turning in on Monday:

 I was very moved by the Douglass article in a number of ways. I was inspired yet discouraged.  I was elated and devastated. Douglass seems like such an awesome (read awe inspiring not “totally radical dude!”) figure throughout history yet his story is also full of sadness and repeated mistakes.

I think as an educator I was most inspired when Douglass talked of his growing desire to learn, as the words read, “The frequent hearing of my mistress reading the Bible aloud, for she often read aloud when her husband was absent, awakened my curiosity in respect to this mystery of reading, and roused in me the desire to learn. Up to this time I had known nothing whatever of this wonderful art, and my ignorance and inexperience of what it could do for me, as well as my confidence in my mistress, emboldened me to ask her to teach me to read.”

 Oh how I wish that my students could understand how beautiful and amazing the art of reading is. I feel as if my students, many times, treat knowledge as shackles rather than their freedom. Douglass was inspired to read and my students are inspired to say “No! I don’t read!” Where is the disconnect? Is it possible to inspire my students in that way? If so, how is it possible?

Just as quickly as I was inspired, I was discouraged by the vitriolic response of Mr. Auld.  “If he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave. He should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it. As to himself, learning will do him no good, but a great deal of harm, making him disconsolate and unhappy. If you teach him how to read, he’ll want to know how to write, and this accomplished, he’ll be running away with himself.”  

Fredrick Douglass took this to heart and it instilled in him a “rebellion not soon to be allayed” and he later became the leader of the abolitionist movement and one of the most prominent orators of the day. He indeed ran away with himself in a way that I think that all of us would agree had positive influences in out society.

 What if students could have this same rebellion awakened in them when people tell them that they are not good enough or smart enough? What would happen if students would embrace knowledge as freedom and not as shackles? Is there any way that I can help instill in my students a desire for knowledge and not just a desire to graduate and be done with the game? How can we make our students care more about their knowledge and growth than their grades on a standardized test? 


About PezMartin

I am an educator, an avid amateur photographer, have a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback, a crazy cat, and am married to the most amazing woman I know. She also happens to be the mother of our awesome little boy, Banjo. I am constantly searching for truth and these blogs are a bit of that search.
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