Teaching Frederick Douglass in American School Systems
With the increasing popularity of educational standards and standardized testing many are beginning to ask, "What is the purpose of education?" Is the goal of education to fill students' minds with a curriculum of facts, or is it to prepare them to be productive members of society? If the answer to this question is the latter of those two, what do they need to know in order to be good citizens and how should that be taught? Tolerance is one issue that educators are leaning towards in their own curriculum. Over the years Americans have made advancements in the area of tolerance, yet there are still some presuppositions that lurk within society. The best way to deal with this issue is to educate people with the truth and provide them with opportunities to see the world through the eyes of one who is oppressed. Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself invites readers into the life of one who is oppressed so that they might see of how damaging intolerance is for those who are enslaved by its prejudices as well as those who hold those harsh sentiments. For this very reason Douglass serves as an excellent resource to personalize issues such as these and bring them into an academic light where teachers and students can open their minds to tolerating and defending differences.
Douglass's Narrative brings an ugly era of American history to life as it weaves through his personal experiences with slavery, brutality, and escape. Most importantly Douglass reveals the real problem in slavery, which is the destructive nature of intolerance and the need for change. Douglass refers many times to the dehumanizing effects slavery has on the enslaved as well as the slaveholder. The slaves are treated as if they are less than human. They are starved, beaten, traded by their masters as if they were animals, denied a basic education, and taught to see their own worth in that of their master's "greatness" (Douglass 2048). Douglass also points to the effects slavery has on slaveholders through his slaveholder's wife, Mrs. Auld. As his life with the Aulds began, he stated that she was "a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously to myself…she had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery" (Douglass 2053). However, Douglass finds that as she becomes more accustomed to owning a slave the more it affected her mannerisms. He laments
"But, alas! This kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery. Soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon" (Douglass 2054).
Douglass counters the...