Can you spell ‘shackles’? I knew you could…

I am not a teacher in the scholastic sense. While I aim to make this blog an instructive environment (for you as much as it is for me), what I do is a far cry from the responsibility that is given to actual teachers at actual schools. For one, I deal almost exclusively with adults, many of whom are in fact older than I am. Nobody is entrusting the minds of the future to my care. Second, I am not (nor do I pretend to be) an authority figure in the way a teacher is. I have no power over any of you. The most drastic way in which I could punish you is by refusing to blog, which would be far more damaging to me than it would be to even the most fervent Cromrade. Third, aside from the handful of you that I know personally (or interact with in any meaningful way outside the auspices of this website), I do not exert any influence over your personal life.

All this is by way of saying that teachers have an awesome level of responsibility. Many members of my family are teachers (as well as a number of my friends), and I know how tough their jobs are. In a brutal dictatorship ruled by the iron fist of Crommunist, teaching would be a well-salaried position that people compete hard to get into, and that attracts the best and most capable candidates. Because, and we have to be honest about this, not everyone is up to the challenge and profound duty that comes with being a teacher:

On Saturday, February 18, 2012, the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York presented the first Spirit of Freedom award to Jada Williams, a 13-year old city of Rochester student.  Miss Williams wrote an essay on her impressions of Frederick Douglass’ first autobiography the Narrative of the Life.  This was part of an essay contest, but her essay was never entered.  It offended her teachers so much that, after harassment from teachers and school administrators at School #3, Miss Williams was forced to leave the school.


Miss Williams quoted Douglass quoting Mr. Auld:  “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slaveHe would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”  Miss Williams personalized this to her own situation.  She reflected on how the “white teachers” do not have enough control of the classroom to successfully teach the minority students in Rochester.  While she herself is more literate than most, due to her own perseverance and diligence, she sees the fact that so many of the other “so-called ‘unteachable’” students aren’t learning to read as a form of modern-day slavery.  Their illiteracy holds them back in society.

Her call to action was then in her summary: “A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people to not just be a student, but become a learner.”

This offended her English teacher so much that the teacher copied the essay for other teachers and for the Principal. After that, Miss Williams’ mother and father started receiving phone calls from numerous teachers, all claiming that their daughter is “angry.”  Miss Williams, mostly a straight-A student, started receiving very low grades, and she was kicked out of class for laughing and threatened with in-school suspension.

So here’s the deal. I was a pretty rambunctious kid, even before I was 13. I liked to read more than be read to, I very rarely stayed on task, and generally I was a little know-it-all shit. The teachers I had, mercifully, saw this as a good thing and gave me lots of opportunities to direct my own learning. I used to get excused from silent reading time to work on the computer, where I would write short stories. I was given the math textbook from the next grade up when my teacher saw my frustration at having to work on problems that I found easy. They saw a kid who had potential, and encouraged me. There’s a pretty decent chance that I wouldn’t have nearly the success I enjoy today if I hadn’t been nurtured in that way when I was in my first few years of school.

What the teachers at school #3 have done is seen a child who is clearly gifted and capable of the kind of broad-spectrum thinking that is rare even among people twice her age, and have labeled her an “angry” troublemaker. She’s since had to leave her school and go to one where kids get sent for fighting. A sharp, insightful mind thrown to the wolves because she dared to speak up in reasoned opposition to her teachers.

Fellow Cromrade WilloNyx had this to say:

So why the fuck would her school turn on her for going above an beyond? Turns out she made a reasonable comparison of low literacy rates in her school and the inability of the white teachers to properly address the problem as being similar to Douglas’s own path toward literacy. Jada said in more words and far more politely eloquently than I will…Hey there teachers, you are perpetuating our continued enslavement in society by not properly addressing our education needs.

So Jada Williams, a thirteen year old girl, stood up and told some teachers they weren’t doing their job. Some teachers, who obviously have some very thin skin, were insulted and decided to bully this bright young woman out of the school.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t have much to add to the substance of her post, except to say this: a faculty with more black teachers, or with teachers who were more knowledgable about racism (particularly about how to discuss it academically) would have seen the merit in this essay. Even if it was offensive or ‘troubling’, when it comes from a 13 year-old it is a ‘teachable moment’, not an opportunity to act spitefully toward a child who relies on you to learn. This young woman is being robbed of an education, which is a death sentence to a black woman. I hope that the support she receives from the Frederick Douglass foundation is sufficient to offset the injury being inflicted upon her by people who should honestly know better.

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