Teaching about Frederick Douglass: A Resource Guide for Teachers of Cultural Diversity

By Goodman, Greg S. | Making Connections, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Teaching about Frederick Douglass: A Resource Guide for Teachers of Cultural Diversity


Goodman, Greg S., Making Connections


Teaching About Frederick Douglass: A Resource Guide for Teachers of Cultural Diversity

Maria Sanelli and Louis Rodriguez, Eds. Peter Lang Publishing, 2012.

"... though I am more closely connected and identified with one class of outraged, oppressed and enslaved people, I cannot allow myself to be insensible to the wrongs and sufferings of any part of the great family of man. I am not only an American slave, but a man, and as such, am bound to use my powers for the welfare of the whole of the human brotherhood. "

- Frederick Douglass (Foner 63)

"Free yourself from mental slavery ..."

- Bob Marley

Devotees of the iconic abolitionist and human rights' activist Frederick Douglass will be pleased to see the publication of this recent addition to the literature attesting to Douglass's timeless legacy. That Douglass remains alive in the hearts and minds of all who value freedom is further testimony to the continuing urgency of the work of antiracist educators and citizens. In this latest work dedicated to the legacy of Frederick Douglass, editors Maria Sanelli and Louis Rodriguez have assembled a collection of essays that bring Douglass into our schools with renewed relevance and meaning.

As a special treat, the readers of Making Connections will be buoyed to see the result of this scholarly collaboration between Kutztown University faculty and the statewide Frederick Douglass Collaboratives founding father, James Trotman. The Frederick Douglass Collaborative is a consortium of professors and administrators representing the fourteen universities comprising the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE). Douglass's work has been inspirational for these scholars, and their purposive mission to bring Douglass to the forefront of classroom practice is both timely and inspirational. As schoolteachers have been stripped of their creativity and autonomy through draconian policies of standardization and zero tolerance, it is not surprising that some children are equating today's classroom with the institution of slavery A Douglass-inspired analysis of this parallel by thirteen-year-old Jada Williams is reported by Liz Dwyer:

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 Frederick 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.

In her essay, which was written for a contest, 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." (Dwyer)

This example of the power of Douglass's teaching may be the capstone argument for adding Teaching About Frederick Douglass to your library. What this book offers is an eclectic combination of intellectual, historical, spiritual, emotional, and cultural arguments for teaching for social justice-Douglass's style.

In section one, "Writing, Research and Literacy," Ellesia Blaque argues that Douglass's project of literacy has been furthered by the telling of the truths of racism and inequality. …

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