Social Justice Engages - Invoking Frederick Douglass



Growing up, my Mom would fill my head with stories about my political activist grandfather and his brother. They were always getting into some political fight, taking advantage of the newspaper publishing business--there were no televisions and/or radio available in Santiago, Republic of Panama--to challenge injustice against the poor. "My Daddy always had gave his last penny for the poor of Santiago," my Mom would point out.

Although I've cleaned out many of the books on my shelf at home, eschewing them for digital ePubs, I find myself staring quietly at the book on social justice. As an only child, the first in my family to earn a master's degree (my father was a police officer in the Canal Zone), I have been unable to claim the mantle of defender of social justice. . .yet, I am as engaged by social justice issues as my grandfather.

Social justice in education, especially writing, can challenge the status quo, and, generate ill will. It's a simple reality of what can be. That's why I took particular interest on what engaged a young teenage girl in New York City.


A quick overview:

In December of 2011, the Rochester City School District, which ranks dead last in all of New York State outside of New York City, held an essay contest for students at school #3. Students were to read Narrative of the Life, an autobiography by Frederick Douglass and write their impressions. 
Miss Jada Williams, a 13-year old student, understood it better than I think she was expected to. She wrote an essay that offended her teacher so much that the teacher reprinted it, shared it with other teachers and has created a situation where Miss Williams has been socially forced to leave the school. 
And, the video of Jada Williams reading....




An excerpt from Jada's essay that caused a negative reaction in her school:
My thoughts: This type of thinking is somewhat still prevalent in our society today. Most white teachers that I have come into contact with, over the last several years of my life, has failed to instruct us even today. The teachers are not as vocal about us not learning how it has been described in this narrative; but their actions speaks volumes. When I myself sit in crowded classrooms and no real concrete instruction is taking place. It makes that saying “history does repeat itself” all the more true. For white teachers to be able to be 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 mis-management of the classroom and remain illiterate and ignorant; or better yet distracted because some children decide to misbehave because they don’t understand, and ashamed to ask for help. 
The teacher recognizing all of these things and still not addressing the matter at hand, so much time has been wasted- then the bell rings and on to the next class, same drama different teacher, different class. When do we get off of this roller coaster? When the white teachers began to pass out pamphlets and packets, they expect us the black students to read the directions, complete it, and hand it in for a grade. The reality of this is that most of my peers cannot read and or comprehend the material that has been provided. So, I feel like not much has changed, just different people, different era, the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man. (read source)
The essay's message is powerful because Jada believes it to be true. She is engaged more deeply perhaps than what the teachers who gave her the book expected her to be. How can we learn from this to better engage our students in positive ways, that transform their perspective of being powerless to powerful beings?



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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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