Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Education Quotes
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These dear souls came not to Sabbath school because it was popular to do so, nor did I teach them because it was reputable to be thus engaged. Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be taken up, and given thirty-nine lashes. They came because they wished to learn. Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters. They had been shut up in mental darkness. I taught them, because it was the delight of my soul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of my race. (10.23)
When Douglass starts a little school to teach the other slaves how to read, he notices that they don't come because they expect to get anything tangible out of it. In fact, they put themselves in great danger by coming to his school. But they still come, and Douglass reflects that this is because education is something that all human beings desire, even (or especially) when they've never had it.
In about four months after I went to New Bedford, there came a young man to me, and inquired if I did not wish to take the "Liberator." I told him I did; but, just having made my escape from slavery, I remarked that I was unable to pay for it then. I, however, finally became a subscriber to it. The paper came, and I read it from week to week with such feelings as it would be quite idle for me to attempt to describe. The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds--its scathing denunciations of slaveholders--its faithful exposures of slavery--and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution--sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before! I had not long been a reader of the "Liberator," before I got a pretty correct idea of the principles, measures and spirit of the anti-slavery reform. I took right hold of the cause. (11.17)
Reading an anti-slavery newspaper doesn't just teach Douglass that slavery is wrong; after all, he doesn't need anyone to tell him how messed up it is. Instead, reading the abolitionist Liberator gives him a cause, an ambition to do more than simply improve himself. He joins the abolitionist movement and starts working to abolish slavery as an institution.
The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. (7.4)
When Mrs. Auld stops teaching Douglass to read, he has to find other ways to learn his ABCs, and he eventually does it by making friends with street kids. There's a certain irony in this. Mrs. Auld started teaching him to read before her husband "taught" her that the right way to treat slaves was as animals. So it turns out that his best teachers will be not grownups but children: white kids who haven't yet "learned" the lesson that Mrs. Auld has.