The Pathway to Freedom (Douglass Part 2)

John Teichert, Candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland

Frederick Douglass – an American hero, proud Marylander, and escaped slave – had much to say about society, slavery, human nature, and progress in his 1845 autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” Yet, it is a paragraph in Chapter VI that is particularly stunning and thought-provoking. It provides the strongest condemnation and should compel the most urgent dedication to solving the systemic problems of education in our society. We truly face a Crisis in the Classroom

Ironically, in Douglass’ story, it was a transition to Baltimore that provided the educational boost he needed to transform his life: “Going to live in Baltimore laid the foundation and opened the gateway, to all subsequent prosperity.” Disgracefully, the opposite is true today.

As a boy, Frederick Douglass was sent from a plantation in Talbot County to a family in Baltimore, the Aulds, to be their slave. Once he arrived, Mrs. Auld took it upon herself to teach him how to read. It all stopped when Mr. Auld found out about the instruction and immediately stopped the practice. Douglass was privy to their conversation about the matter.

Mr. Auld emphatically stated that learning would spoil Douglass, quickly eroding his usefulness as a slave. It would “make him discontented and unhappy” with remaining in the chains of bondage. Douglass reflected on this important thought and came to a powerful and relevant conclusion:

“I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty – to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” It was a revelation that changed his life:

“The very decided manner with which [Mr Auld] spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired.”

Sadly, Baltimore no longer provides such a springboard for its residents. The problems there, and in other places in the state, are chronic, systemic, and pervasive. Student proficiency is dismal. Costs are shattering records in all the wrong ways. Absenteeism is skyrocketing. It is a tragic civil rights issue and a shameful national competitiveness problem. It is a severe societal shortcoming that reveals disgraceful leadership and misguided policies. Some have described it as educational homicide.

Sadly, the namesake of our hero, Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, is at the epicenter of our reprehensible failures. 
Education remains the pathway to freedom. Doubling down on failed policies and writing blank checks will not solve these failures. It requires systemic change to overcome systemic problems. Until the dysfunctional politicians in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington DC are willing to scrap progressive policies that ignore real problems, then we are shutting off our young people from a gateway to all subsequent prosperity.

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