It Pays to be Dumb When Principles mess with Children’s Education
I remember the first time I got straight A’s. It was a horrible day for me. Why you ask ? My father said that know that I had proven that I was smart my education was to precious to be left in the hands of the teachers at my school. My father then made me do all the extra pages and assignments in my books. He gave me a separate list of books to read. Whatever free time I had before it was taken away so that I could study. He would quiz me on the events of the day, on my handwritting. Of course mistakes where dealt with harshly. But you know what the beatings and the being yelled at and lack of personal expression were not so bad in comparison to what happened at school.
I started to get notes from students that said that they hated me for being smart and doing well. Then I started to hear kind of upsetting comments about my being black and all. Even distant family friends got in on the dark skinned jokes, and the rumor spreading that my father did my homework. I kind of hated being smart. It came with a certain backlash that I wasn’t prepared for from all sides. Something Similar has happened in Rochester NY to a thirteen year old girl.
A 13-Year-Old’s Slavery Analogy Raises Some
Uncomfortable Truths in School
(Full Article can be read here)
In a bold comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Jada Williams, a 13-year old eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, asserted that in her experience, today’s education system is a modern-day version of slavery.
The Fact Rundown
Williams reflected on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Auld says. “It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” Williams wrote that overcrowded, poorly managed classrooms prevent real learning from happening and thus produces the same results as Mr. Auld’s outright ban. She wrote that her white teachers—the vast majority of Rochester students are black and Hispanic, but very few teachers are people of color—are in a “position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.” Instead of truly teaching, most teachers simply “pass out pamphlets and packets” and then expect students to complete them independently, Williams wrote. But this approach fails, she concluded, because “most of my peers cannot read and or comprehend the material that has been provided.” As a result, she continued, not much has changed since the time of Douglass, “just different people, different era” and “the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.” Williams called for her fellow students to “start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you” and challenged teachers to do their jobs. “What merit is there,” she asked, if teachers have knowledge and are “not willing to share because of the color of my skin?”
General and Administration Response
The schools’ teachers and administrators were so offended by Williams’ essay that they began a campaign of harassment—kicking her out of class and trying to suspend her—that ultimately forced her parents to withdraw her from the school.
According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Williams’ parents transferred her to another school, then withdrew her altogether. The conservative Frederick Douglass Foundation gave Williams a special award, saying that her essay “actually demonstrates that she understood the autobiography.” They have also reached out to the school for an explanation of the 13-year-old’s treatment.
MrMary Weighs in
Given that only 19 percent of School #3’s eighth graders were proficient in language arts last year (and just 13 percent in math)—well below the state average of 60 percent—it’s clear that the school and its teachers need to change their approach. Attempting to silence Williams by branding her a troublemaker and driving her off campus isn’t the answer.
I have been branded a trouble maker many times because I thought to question some things that didn’t sit right with me. basically I was always dismissed either because I was young and didn’t know anything, or I had no respect and was probably not raised right.
I feel as an educator that shutting my student up only exacerbates the problem in the long run. I won a scholarship to a prep school and I had white teachers and they really inspired in me the want to learn. Those were the happiest days of my career as a student. There was no name calling, by my other students, I was the only black student in mot of my classes. We actually felt like a family to be honest. It can be done and it has been done before not just in NY State but in many other places in the USA. It takes a commitment to listening. It takes a willingness to engage in matter we may not want to talk about or know how to approach. I really think this essay could have been the impetus or the catalyst for the community to come together. I really think that the teaching paradigm has to be revamped completely in the country.
What do you think?
Take a look at two comments that made my blood boil a bit:
In other news, a thirteen year old student who encouraged her fellow classmates to disrupt class and insult their teachers with charges of racism was expelled by the administration. Also, somehow the existence of white educators is to blame for the lack of black educators and the poor student performance.
Although I agree with everything said in this article, I find it hard to believe that a thirteen-year-old student wrote something this controversial, trenchant, and insightful. Someone must be whispering in her ear.
BTW for all you grammar Nazis, there inst a mistake in the title. It was a play on the words principals and principles, did you see what I just did, can you dig it sucka?