Education From Fredrick Douglass Essay, Research Paper
Frederick Douglass was, and still is, a golden example of why education is so important to
a human being?s life. Douglass spent the first part of his life in ignorance. However, his
life of a seemingly endless servitude and ignorance was completely shattered by the fact
that he learned to read. Once he learned to read, his life was forever changed. He
escaped slavery and tyranny and became an icon even to this day.
Douglass?s story more than adequately shows that a quality education is perhaps
the most important thing a person can receive in their life. Without his education, he
would not have realized the shame and inadequacy his slavery, and unfortunate acceptance
of that slavery, held him in. At least he would have had the chance to choose his fate
whereas in slavery, he was but a machine to be disposed of at the master?s will.
In the present, however, it is so overly obvious that our education system is
quickly becoming inadequate (if it isn?t already). Obviously, we cannot let it slip deeper
and deeper into the abyss, but what can we do to fix it? Should we throw more money at
it? Should we create more watchdog groups and set up more committees to hash out
what we should do?
It is my contention that none of those things we continue to do are going to work.
I do not believe there is anything we can do, on a governmental basis, to fix the problem
or stave off the descent. Changing the system from within is not going to work. The key
is to change it from without (Sarason 4).
Of course, it is easy to talk about social change as a means to education reform,
but talk is always more desirable than action. It is a given that broad strokes of social
reform take years and years. We do not have that time, to be honest. We need to make
these changes now.
The problems with education are, quite obviously, many. And it is a well-known
fact that we cannot just fix education. We must point out specific problems first.
The first problem is destroying the enormous difference in scholastic success
between races and cultures. In many instances, schools have chosen to take on this
responsibility when they are in fact incapable of taking it on. The schools have chosen
revisionist history and picking and choosing which subjects should be included in
curriculums. However, since the schools are so heavily influenced by the communities and
societies that surround them, they are eventually rendered unable to make any sort of
difference at all (Ravitch 337). Interest groups, who are more interested in preserving
their values as opposed to maintaining an exceptional education (Christian
fundamentalists, for instance), that control some communities, can completely destroy any
opportunity for a young mind to learn. The politics of racial injustice are hopefully
completely gone, but we?re still living through a state where the races feel as though they
are still there. Of course, from my perspective (the perceived subjugator), it is easy to
claim the politics are not there. From the perspective of those who believe they are being
subjugated, it is even easier to say it is there. They feel it.
The second problem, and possibly the most important, is a question of interest.
Are schools really condusive to American youth to learn in a stumulating way? I don?t
believe so. Pubescent students are almost incapable of true learning because their minds
are clouded by a hormonal fog for an enormous part of their lives. They walk around the
schools nearly humming and buzzing with new and exciting thoughts they are just
beginning to understand. Once those hormones have calmed and the student feels they
can control them a little, there is still no difference in the way they are taught. Nearly
every school is the same (Wood 9). The students go to class around eight in the morning
and come home around three in the afternoon. If a student is old enough, that student will
move on to the next grade. Generally a student?s ability is not taken into account when
they are promoted. As a result, many students feel bored and as though the concept of
school is a compulsory endeavor which is constrictive and dull (Sarason 4). It is obvious
why this does not work. No one can learn in an environment like that.
Another problem concerns practicality. Many of the subjects and classes don?t
reveal to the student how it will be useful to them in the present or the future. I can
remember sitting in algebra class thinking to myself and saying to my friends, ?Where in
the WORLD am I going to need to know how to subtract x from both sides?? Of course,
I have found myself using what I learned in algebra to figure out more problems than I can
remember from percents to gas mileage. The problem is, where I picked up some of the
algebra I would need, I did not pick up all of it. That is true among many students in high
school, if not even to a lesser degree. Relevancy and validity are left out of the classrooms
mainly because of approach. Algebra problems could contain practical uses of the
equations (some do, most do not). The estimated time of arrival of two trains leaving
from different stations and traveling different distances is one of the least practical ways
someone can learn. Show students how to balance checkbooks. Show students not only
how to compute interest, but how and why it is important. I remember being shown how
to compute interest but what interest was and what it might mean to me in the future
could have prevented my abuse of my credit cards. By showing practical, important uses
for these subjects, students are learning about practical, life experiences. Not only are
students learning, but they are being prepared for life outside the classroom.
Another big problem with education deals with history. There are plenty of history
classes and plenty of focuses. All of them fail to show the importance of history. They
fail to show how the present contains the past (Sarason 4). Human accomplishment is the
only thing that has put us where we are right now. That is something that is important to
know because our connections to the past and our understandings of them are what move
us to the future without tripping over our tails. This is not to mention the old addage that
those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. That is the epitome of
backtracking. Progress will not occur if we don?t know from where we are progressing.
Schools do not acquaint students with the enormous amount of careers on this
planet. Of course, there are nearly as many in this country, but economies and societies
are starting to become more and more global. Schools do not give students information
regarding careers. There are career centers at some large schools, but these are out of
touch and ineffective on many levels. They do not reach out to students in the least and
they do not make themselves accessible. Another reason these do not really work is tied
completely into the first problem discussed above. There are plenty of students who feel
the choices and oppotunities possible for some students are in no way available to them
In hand with these problems with the system, there are problems that must be
solved from the outside. The first of these problems is blame. When there is a problem,
Americans take a funny approach to solving it. We find out what the problem is then we
want to assign blame to someone or something, then we want to punish that person as a
way of fixing the problem. We want to villify someone for something that isn?t working
(Sarason 33) rather than simply checking that attempt off the list as unsuccessful and
moving on to the next. The villain approach gets us nowhere. All it does is identify the
problem then eradicate the person making the mistake. That doesn?t do anyone any good.
To make the change, we must be of and part of not only the community, but the
school system. A person that runs a corporation, for example, cannot reform education
because, while he does see the very complex human organizations of corporate entities, he
misses the complex organizations of the school system. Someone on the inside cannot
change the system either because that person is immersed in that system and tends to be
blinded by the overwhelming changes that have to be made.
Above all, the reason no one can change education is because it is an interlocking
piece of society. Education, and the system that runs it, does not exist, nor has it ever
existed, independently of the society that surrounds it. It is just as much a part of it as
baloney is part of a baloney sandwich. Until we can change the attitudes in our society
regarding education, we will not be able to do it. New teachers are products of society.
New principals are products of society. New office and grounds staff are products of
society. Parents are products of society. Everyone is a product of society. So how can
we change something that is embedded in and completely reflective of the society that
bred it? We cannot without changing the broader system: ourselves.
A change in education will, without a doubt, be a part of a change of America. I
welcome it– sooner rather than later.
Ehrlich, Elizabeth. ?America?s Schools Still Aren?t Making The Grade.? Business Week,
Septermber 19, 1988: p61-64
Long, Robert E., editor. The State of U.S. Education. New York: D.H. Wilson, 1991
Ravitch, Diane. ?Multiculturalism.? The American Scholar, number 3, summer ?90.
Sarason, Seymour B. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform. San Francisco:
Wood, Dr. George H. Schools That Work: America?s Most Innovative Public Education
Programs. New York: Dutton, 1992.