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Fredrick Douglass Essay, Research Paper

Justin Frieberg

Dr. Ursule Yates

Eng. 121, Sec. 41


Fredrick Douglass and Education

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.

Douglass escaped slavery and tyranny and for this became an icon even to this day. His story more than adequately demonstrates 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 of his slavery. The unfortunate acceptance of his 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.1

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In the present, however, it is so overly obvious that our education system is quickly becoming inadequate (if it is not 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, or 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. To be honest we do not have that time. We need to make these changes now.

The problems with education are, quite obviously, numerous, and it is a well-known fact that we cannot simply “fix” education. We must first point out specific problems. The first problem is the enormous difference in

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scholastic success between races and cultures. In many instances, schools have chosen to take on this

responsibility when they are in fact incapable of effectively relieving the problem.

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).

Some interest groups are more interested in preserving their values as opposed to maintaining an exceptional education (Christian fundamentalists, for instance). They control some communities and 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 the barriers are still there. Of course, from my perspective (the perceived subjugator), it is easy to claim that the politics are not there. From the perspective of those who believe they are being subjugated, it is even easier to see that the

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Politics are there. They cannot only see it, but they can, more importantly, feel it.

The second problem, and possibly the most important, is a question of interest. Are American schools really conducive to learning in a stimulating way? Pubescent students are almost incapable of true learning because a hormonal fog, for an enormous part of their lives, clouds their minds. 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.

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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, “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 ranging from percents to gas mileage.

The problem is that 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 more practical uses of equations (because as of right now some do, but the majority of them 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 them not only how to compute interest, but how and why it is important. I remember being shown how to compute interest. I don’t remember being taught what interest was and what it

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might mean to me in the future. This could have prevented my abuse of my credit cards. By showing practical, important uses for these subjects, students are learning the subject and why they need to know it. Not only are students learning but also they are being prepared for life outside the classroom, one of the main purposes of education itself.

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 and expands on 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 adage that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. That is the epitome of backtracking.

Progress will not occur if we do not 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

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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 opportunities possible for some students are in no way available to them (Ehrlich 63). 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 hands-off approach to solving it. We find out what the problem is then we want to assign blame to someone or something. We then want to punish that person as a way of fixing the problem.

This villain approach gets us nowhere. All it does is identify the problem then eradicate the person creating the problem. That doesn’t do anyone any good. To make the change we must be a part of not only the community but also the school system.

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A person that runs a corporation, for example, cannot reform education. This is 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. This is because that person is, most likely, 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 independently of the surrounding society do not exist and never has existed.

Until we can change the attitudes in our society regarding education, we will not be able to change it. New teachers are products of society as are principals, office staff, grounds staff, and parents. 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? The answer is that we cannot unless we change the broader system: ourselves. A change in education will, without a doubt, be a part of a change of America and vice-versa. I welcome it– sooner rather than later.

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1.) A more detailed explanation of Douglass’s life can be found in the first source cited on this page

Sources Cited

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick

Douglass: An American Slave Written by himself. Ed. David W. Blight, Boston, MA: Bedford, 1993

Ehrlich, Elizabeth. “America’s Schools Still Aren’t Making

The Grade.” Business Week, September 19, 1988: p61-64

Halcon, John J. “Racism in Academia: The Old Wolf

revisited.” Facing Racism in Education: 69-83 Ed.

Hidalgo, McDowell, and Siddle, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review, 1990.

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. 59: p337-54.

Rose, Mike “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Perspectives on

Contemporary Issues: Reading Across the Disciplines,

2nd Edition. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley, Fort Worth,

TX: Harcourt, 2000.

Sarason, Seymour B. The Predictable Failure of

Educational Reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

Wood, Dr. George H. Schools That Work: America’s Most

Innovative Public Education Programs. New York: Dutton, 1992.

Fredrick Douglass and Education


Justin Frieberg

Dr. Ursule Yates

English 121, Section 41

28 April 2000

Frieberg 1

Justin Frieberg

Dr. Ursule Yates

Eng. 121, Sec. 41



Thesis: Education is one of the most important things in a human beings life.

I. Introduction

A. Fredrick Douglass

B. Douglass’s Slavery

II. Present Day

A. Inadequacy of education

B. Questions about this problem

III. Problems with Education

A. Differences of scholastic success between races and


1. Curriculum choices

2. Interest groups

B. Question of Interest

C. Practicality of classes

1. General examples

2. Examples from my education

D. Importance of History

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IV. Possible courses of action

A. Pros

B. Cons

Conclusion: We need to change our educational system, but we must first change our ways of thinking.


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