In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of An American Slave, Frederick Douglass miraculously conquers a plethora of insurmountable obstacles. The most notable of his feats is, obviously, escaping the oppressive shackles of slavery, however, I find his most exceptional accomplishment to have been learning to read and write. Via this outstanding feat Douglass was able to navigate his way to liberation. Whilst reading about this impressive historical figure I became intrigued. How could simple lessons in “the A, B, C” from Mrs. Auld have awakened this dormant genius? Does education enable?
During his time in Baltimore, Douglass was treated well, relatively speaking. His mistress attempted to teach him the alphabet but when Mr. Auld discovered this he promptly ended the lessons. He claimed, “A nigger should know nothing but to obey his mater—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world.” This statement entirely truthful. The slave owning South knew better than most that the only was to keep the blacks enslaved was to keep them ignorant; to keep them tame. Hearing these words triggered an irrepressible revelation.
“It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. 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 grand achievement, and I prized in highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
This strategy of keeping the masses impotent was by no means new. Techniques like this have been used by other powerful groups wishing to remain on top such as the Roman Catholic Church and their violent clash against science. Men such as the revolutionary Galileo were imprisoned and executed so information that could pose a threat to their credibility would be suppressed. Strikingly similar the church also only allowed members of the clergy to read and write so that the peasantry would be susceptible to deceit and manipulation.
To consider this method a pandemic of the past would equally be outrageous. Marcela Loaiza, a Colombian woman dancing to support herself and her daughter, was lured into the lucrative sex trafficking ring run by Japan’s Yakuza mafia. Marcel was desperate for money and took the offer from the seemingly harmless talent agent. It took Marcela years to realize that she was a modern-day slave and several more years until she managed to escape with the help of a loyal client. Marcela now helps spread awareness about human trafficking. In an interview she shared, “Many girls and women in Colombia don’t know what human trafficking is. They’re vulnerable because of the high levels of unemployment and their lack of education.”
So far, education has been depicted without any drawbacks. In a larger sense it is, but a deep pocket of sorrow results from it. At times, Frederick Douglass felt “that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.” The most beautiful inquiry into this dilemma is from Charlie Gordon of Flowers For Algernon. After his treatment had enabled him to surpass the intelligence of everyone he knew and had loved, he became unhappy. Charlie was unable to find excitement in life. He grieved, “I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.” This tale tackles a difficult sentiment and handles it beyond adequately.
The simple solution, according statistics and leading humanitarians, to both ending world hunger and overpopulation is to empower the women. Unsurprisingly, another troubling issue can be defeated simply with education. But why does education enable?