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.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!


  1. says

    I live in a suburb of Rochester.

    I guess I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion. I heard about this the other day on Facebook, it being local news and all, and as soon as I saw “Jada Williams” in your post, I said, “Woo hoo, Crommie is talking about my hometown!” Not in a good way though, I suppose.

    I’m frankly a little shocked that this happened here. I have not had much exposure to city schools, so maybe the culture is different there. At the suburban school I went to, this would not have been a big deal.

  2. says

    Holy shit, I wondered what made my page views jump. I was mostly worried that some parts of my privilege made me blinded to something being worded badly in the post. I never expected it to end up here.

    Seriously, I may just start my own Crommunist religion now.

    I do see a typo though. I am very dyslexic and those are common for me.

  3. ischemgeek says

    I was also a know-it-all little shit in class. My experience was more mixed than yours though: about half of my teachers were outright hostile to me. Admittedly, I was not an easy kid to have in class, as ADHD, smarts, boredom, lack of patience, and an inability to suffer foolishness don’t make for a very pliant kid. Still, I point to the fact that in classes where teachers encouraged me and gave me extra work once mine was done, I was pretty much the teacher’s pet as proof that I wasn’t a bad kid so much as a highly bored one (my third grade teacher’s assertation that I would never amount to anything in life notwithstanding – I’m sure the feeling is mutual, as the most charitable description I can think of for that woman is “unpleasant and wholly unsuited to teaching”).

  4. mynameischeese says

    Jada Williams is a future scholar. I have no doubt we will be reading her tracts on philosophy in a few years.

  5. mynameischeese says

    I have ADHD and it wasn’t until my early teens when awareness of ADHD became mainstream. I look back on some of my childhood teachers and feel sorry for them. Some of them, though, I look back on and think they deserved all the hassle they got from me.

  6. sphex says

    Is there something we as a community can do to show support for her? A la Jessica Ahlquist/ Damon Fowler? She is clearly an exceptional young woman and perhaps being shown that many appreciate that quality in her would be comforting?

  7. lizdamnit says

    Wow…I…whoa. Who can see a mind like that in a teenager and not nourish it? When you see a “kid” that passionate, you start nudging books and papers their way, and when it’s time, college/scholarship info. You don’t chase a strong, young mind away – what the hell happened?

    “…not just a student but a learner…” – I’d give my eyeteeth to have my freshmen (freshpersons?) write like that, to be so confident in their minds, and to feel so deeply about something. And to be so conscious about the importance of literacy.

    @Sphex, me too – has any one set up some sort of fund? Adjuncts make little more than tea and sympathy, but I’d like to contribute what I can.

  8. ischemgeek says

    I wasn’t diagnosed until early 20s (two months ago, in fact) because when I was little, ADHD was thought of as something hyperactive boys have so even though they took me to a child psych, it was a child psych without expertise in learning disabilities (further, one who didn’t believe in “labelling”). My parents didn’t get me checked as a teen because, well, both my parents have adult ADHD so their “normal” is about the same as mine.

    Looking back, my ADHD was obvious when I was a kid (esp. difficulties in sleep, attention regulation, forgetting stuff, blurting out things without thinking, impulsive actions, fidgeting, forgetting to eat or sleep for days at a time if I was absorbed in something, etc). But hindsight is 20/20, right? 😛

    I’m glad I went to school in the 90s. Nowadays they probably would’ve brought the cops in on it…. because throwing a kid with a disability in jail because of the difficulties their disability causes makes so much sense.

  9. ischemgeek says

    THIS. So much this. I get students in the first-year chem lab I TA who don’t grasp that if you weigh something, add some stuff to it and weigh it again, if the mass goes down between the two weighings, something went wrong and maybe you’d better start over.

    By contrast, I get students who go into the chem lab and come up to me and say, “Hey, you know that indicator we use? How does it work? I mean, I get the rest of the stuff in the lab – let’s face it, it’s pretty obvious if you think about it – but how does the indicator work? I get that if it’s in this pH it changes color, but why?

    First one… I try my best but there’s only so much one can do when faced with someone who refuses to think.

    Second, I actively encourage, and toward the end of the term, I’ll suggest a major I think they’d enjoy (chemistry often, since I’m obviously biased, but sometimes bio, engineering, physics, or even a switch of faculties depending on what the student really wants to do with their life). I’ll also suggest books I think they’d like to read, papers I think they’d find interesting, websites, etc.

  10. csrster says

    Clearly Jada Williams called it right. She said her teachers were morons and they are.

  11. mynameischeese says

    In a way, I’m lucky to have grown up in the 90s as well. If I had got caught building my own rockets (had a bit of a NASA obsession) in the naughties, I probably would have been done for terrorism.

  12. John Horstman says

    Jada Williams has clearly identified an ongoing aspect of racism and connected it to a historical practice under chattel slavery, and the school’s response validates her assessment. Well played, Ms. Williams; I hope you manage to overcome the systemic barriers to your happiness and success that you have so ably identified.

  13. lizdamnit says

    as a quick aside…”I get students in the first-year chem lab I TA who don’t grasp that *snip* if the mass goes down between the two weighings, something went wrong and maybe you’d better start over.” Good luck! We have a saying on my floor: “Ignorance is great ’cause you can do something about it, but willful ignorance is awful”

    I sneak in book recommendations too – and uber-subversive things like poetry and Dr. Who! Now that I’ve done a frantic cyber-wave to you and Sphex as fellow instructor-types, back to the scheduled Crommulations 😀

  14. otrame says

    I used to run an outreach program at an archaeology lab that brought kids in to teach them about archaeology. Once we had a group, the teacher who made the appointment was quick to warn that these were “at risk” kids. When I laughed and said “Good. At Risk kids are usually pretty smart” all I got was stunned silence.

    When the group arrived, I did my usually spiel about the 10,000 years of local habitation by humans. One little girl, probably about 11 or 12, confronted me, sounded very aggressive, and just short of angry: “How do you know that? You weren’t even born yet.”

    The teacher was horrified and started to apologize to me and berate her, all in more or less the same breath. I stopped her. I literally had to raise my voice a little to get her to stop. I said, “She’s right. That is a perfectly reasonable question.” Then I got down on one knee to get to her level and told her “You should always ask ‘How do you know that?’ That is very smart.” Then I told her, in unfortunately very general terms, how I knew that and explained that she would learn more about that in the other areas of the lab, that that was why we wanted kids here, to learn how we know that.

    The teacher tried to apologize again, and I told her, “Oh, sure, she was a little aggressive. But she was right. I approve of anyone, especially kids, who ask questions like that.”

    That job showed me once more just how bad and how good some teachers are. As the mother of two “ADD” kids (I had a pediatric neurologist tell me that he hated the term because “it isn’t an attention deficit and it’s not a disorder”), and being ADD myself, I was already very aware of that. I’ve seen the systematic abuse of brilliant kids by bad teachers for about 50 years now. I truly hope Ms. Williams gets past this and understands that she is not the one with the problem.

  15. ischemgeek says

    I probably would’ve been hauled off to juvie for being a holy terror in class.

    “Tell your teacher their favorite book is dull tripe with an unlikable, unsympathetic main character; ignorant stereotypes as supporting characters; and no plot to speak of? In-school suspension for a month!”

    (yeah, I did that. More than once. Let’s just say “tact” wasn’t in my vocabulary until my late teens/early 20s. Then again, the teachers sent me to detention and in-school suspensions for expressing a dissenting opinion, however bluntly, so as I always have said, the fault wasn’t one-sided)

  16. ischemgeek says

    I have ADHD – I agree that it’s not an attention deficit (more like an attention-regulation deficit), but sometimes I find it a disorder in the “personally distressing” sort of way. When I spend 8 hours trying to write an important paper, get maybe half a page finished and end up in tears from frustration because I can’t focus on a several-times-a-week basis, I’m pretty sure I’d call that disordered.

    Then again, I don’t have a problem with my hyperfocus times, even though many I know are distressed by how I won’t eat/sleep for days at a time because I’m too absorbed in the task at hand.

  17. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    To add to the fun it seems that there is a push to ‘diagnose’ those of us with brains – sorry, anti-authority problems – as having mental disorder. See for example this BB thread –

    I wonder where that idea came from? Could it be the same as the whole SOPA/ACTA/censor-everything cabal? Can’t have the little people *thinking* now can we?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *