Example Of Argumentative Essay On Taught Myself And Succeeded
Throughout the history of black people, from the days of slavery to the present, they have always had to fight so as to get literacy. The story of Fredric Douglas Learning to Read and Write gives a picture of how he had to use tricks such as hiding from his master and bribing street children so as to learn how to read and write. Smitherman’s paper Language and African Americans gives a historical overview of the quest of black people to not only go to school but to be able “to read in the standard English of the school, the commercial world, the arts, science and professions.” (186).These two texts show that the power to change the literacy levels of black people is in the hands of black people themselves.
Douglas paints a picture of resilience, perseverance and determination when he describes how he taught himself how to read and write. He describes how his mistress taught him the alphabet but was soon told to stop by her husband since he feared the consequences of having an educated slave (Douglass, 1). This was enough to build a curiosity and a yearning to learn in him. He went ahead to come up with clever tricks such as asking street children to teach him how to read and stealing old copy books of his little master to learn how to write(Douglass, 2 & 4).
Smitherman shows a similar situation in the black history of literacy. Though the Brown v. board of Education case in 1954 did away with racial segregation in American schools, ostensibly giving black children an equal chance to access education, it was soon discovered that they were lagging behind academically (187). This was attributed to the fact that black children spoke a different language at home, African American Language (AAL) which put them at a disadvantage when compared to white children who spoke Standard English at home. The struggle to sensitize teachers on AAL and thus come up with resolutions that would help black children gain a proper education would begin.
The Oakland, California, Unified School District Board’s “Resolution on Ebonics” (l996) and the Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children, et al., v. Ann Arbor School District Board (1979) case are the major events that mark this struggle. The King case was filed by the parents of the Anna Arbor Children, from the 21 housing project units, whose children were suffering (Smitherman, 188). They were met with a lot of resistance from the predominantly white community and even from middle class black people whose children did not suffer from the same problem (Smitherman, 188). The same is true for Douglass, his master did not want him to learn anything and with time, even his mistress did not want him to learn anything. She was enraged every time she saw him with a newspaper and any time he spent in a room was regarded very suspiciously as he might have been reading a book (Douglass, 1).
This dismal state of illiteracy and resistance faced in their quest to emancipate themselves did not deter black people from fighting for their right to literacy; they had to find ingenious ways to solve their problem. Douglass would carve a little time out of his errands, carry some extra bread and then convince street children to teach him how to write. Later he would steal his little master’s old books and copy what he had written until he also learnt how to write (Douglass, 2&4). The Ebonics Resolution, sought to instruct teachers, through its policies and strategies, on how to bridge the academic gap between black children and the rest of the American children (Smitherman, 188). The only solution was instructing teachers on the unique linguistic challenges that black students faced, so as to uplift their academic performance.
The education of black people has always had a tokenism approach to it. Though Brown gave black children access to all public schools in America, nothing further was done to actually help them learn. No one took into consideration the unique backgrounds that they came from and their linguistic challenges that would affect how they were actually able to learn (Smitherman, 189). This was only an attempt to show how forward and racially integrated America is, not actually educate black people. The same is true for Douglass, his mistress, a kind Christian woman who helped everyone also wanted to help him learn how to read, but not for long, she was soon told to stop by her husband (Douglass, 1).
It is also quite evident that, in their journey of literacy, the only person who can come to the aid of black people is black people themselves. Douglass had to come up with innovative ways to teach himself how to read and write, no one else helped him and even for the street children, he had to offer them something in exchange, bread (1). In Smithermans account, language and African Americans, all the interventions aimed at improving the literacy levels of black people have been done by black people. The king case was presented by the parents of the affected children, not only did the other parents not see their academic failure as a problem; they “vigorously lambasted the court action, and conducted themselves with defensive self-righteousness throughout the two years of the court battle.” (Smitherman,188)
Yet all is not doom and gloom, in their quest for literacy, black people have found good Samaritans along the way who have helped them. Douglass found the street children and the situation at the shipyard conducive for his learning. The Green Road Mothers in the King case, found a lot of help from linguists such as Smitherman herself who gave expert witness accounts in their case and helped them get a favorable ruling (Smitherman, 189). The justice system was also good to them since they were able to get a favorable ruling that prescribed the creation of an oversight team to ensure that those ills were corrected.
Some attempts at gaining literacy for black people have been successful while others have not been successful. Douglass, through his innovativeness, perseverance and sheer determination was successful in learning how to read (4). Though the Green Road mothers got a favorable ruling in their case, the prescriptions that were given by the judge were not implemented. What the King school did to remedy the situation can only be described as a farce, at best. There was no funding for the project, which was only to last for a year. The teachers were to attend only 20 paid hours of library instruction on Black English and Standard English. There were no parent representatives or a linguistics expert to instruct the teachers. The saddest thing is there were no special programs put in place to instruct the affected children, so as to improve their literacy levels (Smitherman, 189). However, all is not lost since the Oakland resolution gave rise to a lot of studies, some federally funded, to develop a program for teaching in schools. This has the potential to not only improve the education of black children in Oakland but also throughout America.
There are other struggles in the quest for black literacy such as the declassification of Ebonics as a dialect and instead classifying it as a language on its own. This will reduce the prejudices held against black people in education and also create a chance for the education system to cater for the needs of black people as they cater for the needs of people who speak other languages such as Spanish and German. This will stop the notion that the lack of black literacy because of language barrier is an indication of their intellectual abilities, or lack thereof (Smitherman, 191)
Black people have always had to struggle, go to court and use a host of many other methods to gain literacy. The story of Douglass paints a picture of that struggle at a personal level, and at a different historical era. Smitherman’s paper paints the struggle as it has been in the last century. Though a lot of achievements have been made since Douglass and other slaves learned how to read, a lot of work still needs to be done so that his struggle and that of others like him will not go to waste. That today, black children will not only go to school, but also get an education that will help them improve their livelihood. That they will not have to struggle like their fore fathers, they will only have to succeed.
Smitherman, Geneva. “Language and African Americans.” Michigan State University. August 11, 2004. Web. Accessed March 12, 2015.
Douglass, Fredric. “Learning to Read and Write.” Pasadena.edu. N.d. Web . Accessed March 12, 2015.