Ronald Lapp, Instructor
English 101 Section 1067
11 January 2016
Frederick Douglass: Learning to Read and Write
Frederick Douglass’ perseverance in learning how to read and write was amazing. He was a slave with no possibility of becoming a free man. He would be chastised and punished over the mere possibility that he might be learning, so Frederick discovered other methods of educating himself.
Douglass described his mistress, his master’s wife, as being an inherently good person at first. She was a very charitable woman who treated every human being she encountered as an equal. She began teaching him the alphabet but soon stopped at her husband’s demand. It was illegal to teach slaves to read or write, the penalty for ...view middle of the document...
Learning to read presented many challenges for Douglass. When he was twelve years old, he got a copy of a book entitled The Columbian Orator. The message of the book was one of liberation. A slave ran away from his owner three times, and when the third attempt failed he confronted his owner. After a frank conversation about human rights the owner freed the slave. This message allowed Frederick to look at his life in a different light. He wanted to be a free man, and to accomplish that he had to continue to educate himself.
Douglass would take bread from the house with him on his errands and trade it to the neighborhood’s poor white children for reading lessons. He would then challenge the children by telling them that he was a better writer than they were. He wrote what he knew which was very little. The children would predictably respond by writing other letters and words, which he then memorized. He never kept a writing book, for being caught with such an item would mean dire consequences. He practiced his writing on fences, sidewalks, and brick walls so that they couldn’t be traced back to him, using nothing but a piece of chalk. Another clever method Frederick used for writing was to wait until the mistress left the house and write in her son’s schoolbooks. He became very adept at copying the boy’s handwriting so that no one would suspect that he was using them.
Frederick Douglass’ story is one that everyone can learn from. He had support from some and deterrence from many. Even in the harshest living conditions, this man accomplished his goals and became a scholar. He knew that education is the most important aspect of life. It must be pursued at any cost, and by doing anything less is doing oneself a disservice on the highest level.