Education and Slavery
“To Educate a Man is to unfit him to be a Slave”
Frederick Douglass was a renowned social reformer in America, an orator, as well as a writer. In some quarters he is even regarded as a statesman who symbolized the struggle against slavery. This is largely due to his experiences with slave masters, his antislavery writing as well as the fact that he was essentially the leader of the movement that campaigned for the abolition of slavery in America (the abolitionist movement). One of his most memorable quotes regarding slavery and education, particularly in regard to the education of African Americans living in slavery, was the statement that “To educate a man is to unfit him to be a slave.” This statement is an apt representation of Douglass’ philosophy on the education of minorities. His view was that education would act as a major equalizer when it came to dealing with the inequalities being experienced by African Americans at the time. A majority of African Americans were still operating under the yoke of slavery, despite the fact that it had been more than 30 years since the slave trade had ended. The strongest weapon against slavery according to Douglass was education. He believed that once educated, an individual would be sufficiently empowered to be able to make informed choices. In fact, an educated African would according to Douglass, be aware that slavery had been outlawed and likely refuse to be subjected to slavery (Mckay and Gates, 387).
Douglass also believed that education was the first step towards being able to secure gainful employment outside the plantations, as without education fitting into the society would prove a challenge to most slaves. Educating the slaves, or the minority black community was therefore, to Douglass, the first step towards achieving equality between whites and the black minority, it would be very difficult for an individual to be a slave to another individual they consider their own equal. As such, education provided the one avenue through which African Americans would be able to turn away from slavery and still have a means of survival other than simple dependence upon their white masters. Education also seemed to Douglass as the best route to equality because it provided a route through which other African Americans would become informed regarding their rights, giving rise to true and powerful activism. Sentiments that were based on the belief that an ignorant man rarely questions anything, as to such individuals everything seems perfect. Douglass believed that the main reason why African Americans still remained slaves to their white counterparts was ignorance, and educating them sufficiently would amount to rendering them unfit to be slaves, due to the realization that free choice did exist. To Douglass therefore, the first step towards addressing the existing injustices faced by minorities would be educating them. Douglass believed that a majority of the inequalities facing the minorities would sufficiently be addressed through education.
The world as a whole is full of inequality. The United States is no exception as there are many inequalities among the different races. Considering different educational backgrounds is the first step when analyzing racial inequality in the United States. Though United States is known to be a land of opportunity, education inequality has affected the ability of people from all races to exploit these opportunity. It is worth noting that the current achievement as well as attainment of the American dream is not equal among the races. Education is the main cause of the inequality and therefore it is also the foundation that affects peoples’ ability and dreams. The main reason as to why education is considered to be the stepping stone to achieving equality in the United States is because it tends to dictate level of income, employment opportunities as well as confirmation of existing stereotypes (McKay and Henry 402).
A huge population of the United States population depends on education to better their lives and career. But recent research on Black, Hispanic and Native American youths portrayed that these group of youth have a 50- 50 chance of graduating on time (Pager 69). This proves that Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans do have some disadvantages while attaining high school education and that is why they tend to graduate late or drop out of high school. Rather than these group of minorities having disadvantages to graduate, it may also prove difficult succeed after graduating. After graduating from high school, students are expected to utilize these results to be accepted in a post high school education program. There are several test that they can take such as SAT and ACT. The average results of SAT test ranged average for Blacks, Hispanic and Native American to the results of the whites on the same test by a range margin in the year 2001. Over the years the results of these two tests SAT and ACT showed that the minorities are having difficulties in education while compared to the results of the white. As a result fewer minorities going post high school education and this are also reflected in their career opportunities especially for the white collar jobs.
Even after these minority groups especially blacks have managed to colleges the number of those that graduate still differ when compared to the white students. According to College Board President Gaston Caperton, the number of black student that graduate after joining college is only 21 percent of their total number. In fact most of these do not even get to the second year of their college. The male students are the most affected is the college dropout problem and the main problem is based on their character or behavior which tends to interfere with their education. Though the level of black female students graduating from college is also low, their success is made worse by their poor performance (Henry, 174).
The main cause of the racial inequality that exists in the United States especially in areas revolving around education is poverty levels. Poverty is quite high among minorities in the United States and these are marked by their low income and cost of living. Most families of the minorities especially families of blacks are associated with child labor, poor accommodation and low health due to poor nutrition. These are factors that are future noticed as contributors to poor performance for the students as well as school drop outs. Black students tend to drop out of school due to the increasing need to support their families or even to struggle and quickly better their personal lives. As a result, the racial wealth gap results to lower level of education for minority groups.
School and racial inequality has commonly been experienced by the level of spending expected for black students while compared to white students. Schools with food café’s and close shopping mall target the white students because they are expected to have more. This simple notion subconsciously transfer to the students and the idea that as a black student it is okay to have less funds make them work slightly less. Racial inequality is also noted through school teachers, most teachers especially in the United States are middle aged white male and female. These teachers tend to impose confidence and encouragement to the white students and discourage the black students since they do not expect a black student to perform remarkably in their studies. Even with these simple forms of racial discrimination is the school students should be encouraged to embrace education. It is essential that students from all races be it Blacks, Hispanic or Native American because it is a simple way to gain essential knowledge in common live challenges as well as gain ability to compete in the world career and financial market.
Based on Douglass’ philosophy on the education of minorities, the current problem of racial disparities is a unique one, as it essentially affects the very solution Douglass suggests. However, Douglass envisaged a situation in which education was accessible to all. The only way through which to completely resolve the inequalities would therefore be to create an education system that is immune to the inequalities that already exist. These inequalities have essentially found their way into the education system mainly due to the commercialization of education, as well as the unfair and discriminatory recruitment and promotional procedures that encourage nepotism and favoritism. Due to the fact that it is already too late to put in place measures that ensure complete insulation of the education industry, there is a need for government as well as the general public to engage in affirmative action.
The first obvious form of affirmative action, would be to encourage education amongst the minority communities, hence dealing in part with the problem of attitude and the imaginary glass ceiling. The government could in part earmark certain hardship areas in which programs that offer scholarships and direct entry into lucrative programs for disadvantaged minorities. For instance, students from the minority groups who post impressive GPA scores, but are unable to afford tuition fees could be supported through scholarship programs helping assuage the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that are common within such communities. The second step would be to institute lower admission scores for students who performed well in areas that can be considered “hardship” areas. These two measures would go a long way towards equalizing the negative effects that commercialization of education has led to, as well as eliminating the disparities that exist in education. Further, in order to help resolve the second major cause of disparities, the government should ensure that laws governing recruitment are stricter and encourage recruitment on the basis of merit. Indeed if these two aspects are dealt with, and the playing field equalized, education could ultimately result in the elimination of disparities usually based on race.
Bowman, Scott . “Multigenerational Interactions in Black Middle Class Wealth and Asset Decision Making”. Journal of Family Economic Issues. 2011
Henry, Michael. The New Geography of Inequality in Urban America. Race, Poverty, and Domestic Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press.2004
Pager, Devah. The Mark of a Criminal Record. The American Journal of Sociology. 2003
McKay, Nelly and Gates, Henry. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd Edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.