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. According to the Fredrick Douglass Foundation of New York, 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.


I feel the girl's parallels are inappropriate and immature. The "white teachers as slavemasters" premise reeks of the exact same rationalizing that I've heard from plain old white kids bitching about their white (or black, or other) teachers stretching back 30 years: "My teachers don't like me!"

That is not to say there is a legitimate problem in her school and others. There most certainly is a problem; but the explanations for it are not going to include something as ridiculous and crude as "whites want to keep blacks down." If you think about it for even a second, you realize that scenario would require a massive conspiracy of all white teachers and administrators throughout the U.S. Really, what benefit would a young white person making shit pay (like $20K annually) to teach black and latino kids in the ghetto have to keep those kids from learning anything substantive? There is no such benefit, thus no motive.

My real concern is not that a young girl wrote a silly, inflammatory essay. My real concern is the possibility that she was in fact sanctioned and mistreated for merely having done so. Her essay should have been discussed in public, its flaws revealed plainly and objectively, while at the same time praising her for having read and processed the subject material and trying to analyze its meaning in a modern context. She should be rewarded for thinking critically (trying to, anyway); instead she is rewarded for calling white teachers slavemasters. What a waste.

posted by forwardslash: 2392 days ago