Study Guide

Having Our Say Education

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

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The whites fixed it so those N****es could never get ahead. Wasn't much better than slavery. The whites were able to cheat the N****es because very few N****es could read or write or do arithmetic. (2.5.14)

The slaves might be free but they're still not getting a fair shake. Few of them have received the education needed to navigate the complexities of American society and few are given the access to schooling that they so desperately need.

Growing up in this atmosphere, among three hundred or so college students, reading and writing and thinking was as natural for us as sleeping and eating (3.7.7).

The sisters are lucky: a love of learning is in their blood. The only thing that's as natural for us as sleeping and eating is...Actually, we'll have to get back to you on that one.

I never saw people try harder to improve themselves than these grown men and women wanting to learn to read and write. (3.8.12)

No one appreciates an education more than someone who knows what it's like to go through life without one. Think about that next time you sleep in and miss your first class.

Lemuel's hand healed finally, but the accident changed his life. He decided he wanted to be a doctor. (3.9.8)

This is the power of education: Lemuel sees something that inspires him and attains it, eventually becoming a prominent and respected member of his community. If only it were that easy for everyone.

Papa said to me, "Daughter you are college material. You owe it to your nation, your race, and yourself to go. And if you don't, then shame on you!" (4.13.4)

This might a little over-the-top, but can you really blame him? Henry knows that Sadie's skills as a teacher could change a lot of lives and is unwilling to allow her to let those gifts fall by the wayside.

The colored schools were far inferior to the white school. Oftentimes, "school" was held at church and the children would kneel on the floor and use the pews as desks. (4.13.7)

It's hard to get a proper education without proper resources. This is another one of the many ways that black communities were denied opportunities to achieve the American dream.

Radical N****es looked down on him because they had higher aspirations for the race than he apparently did. But Mr. Washington tried to help his people by getting them educated, getting their feet on the ground. (4.13.11)

There's truth to both sides of this. On one hand, one should never compromise on basic human rights. It's totally understandable that some people want to see more active steps being taken. On the other, education must be the first step towards empowerment, so Washington was still making positive changes. In the end, the best approach might be some combination between the two.

Oftentimes, learning to read and write for the children was not the top priority. Teaching people about food preparation—like how to can food—was more important. (4.13.13)

Although literacy is a huge problem, there are other more pressing concerns—some of them even a matter of life and death. You can't expect a kid to be able to focus on her education if her home life is a mess.

These poor colored folks thought I was something, which was a big surprise to me. My students loved me so much they [...] all fought to carry my lunch and my books (4.14.8).

Bessie doesn't realize how special she is until she's around people who have even less opportunity. The fact that she is smart, classy, and beautiful is too much for these kids to handle!

One of my white girl friends said, Bessie, let me turn in your work as if it was mine, and see what grade he gives it." I'll tell you what happened, honey. She passed with my failed work! (5.17.22)

C'mon, that's just absurd. Is there any doubt now that the sisters' race makes getting an education harder than it should be? What in Zeus' name was that teacher trying to achieve with that nonsense?

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