Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday May 18th Post: The Fight for Freedom

Today we concluded our time at the National Underground Railroad Museum.  Over the past two days the underlying theme that has caught my attention is that of Freedom; more importantly the ongoing fight to achieve this.  Three quotes throughout the museum that caught my attention are inserted below.

These quotes caught my attention because I believe that they encompass a large portion of the Underground Railroad and especially the struggle for educational equity.  Many of the individuals that were fighting for equality and civil rights of all were putting their lives on the line not only for their freedom and equality but for the freedom and equality of generations of humanity they would never come to know.  In addition, there were also many individuals that were putting all that they had worked for and achieved and facing imprisonment if caught to help in this fight.  As Counts sums leadership up; “Any individual or group that would aspire to lead society must be ready to pay the costs of leadership: to accept responsibility, to suffer calumny, to surrender security, to risk both reputation and fortune.  If this price, or some important part of it, is not being paid, then the chances are that the clam to leadership is fraudulent.  Society is never redeemed without effort, struggle, and sacrifice.” (Counts, 1932)  I believe that it takes an extremely proactive and dedicated person to become a leader and sacrifice their own lives and freedom to fight for the freedom of others.  Many of these individuals were fighting the very roots of where I believe the struggle for educational equity began; the notion that education enabled power so many African American slaves, and slaves in general, were denied the rights for education because it created a society were slave holders held all of the power.  In which education is freedom and with education freedom can begin to be pursued.

As some slaves purchased their freedom, others escaping through the Underground Railroad and trying to begin their new lives they were still faced with the notion of not being free.  They were put in situations where being captured and returned, even if they were free people, was a terrifying aspect that always had to be at the top of their minds.  If they were free/escaped and had a chance to try and find work to bring forth an income to support/start families they were faced with not being able to find work or being put into the lowest of low jobs.  All of these individuals are fighting for freedom and equality and even when there are chances for these two notions to begin to be touched and make a better life for themselves and families, the society had been created to constantly push them back down.  W.E.B DuBois asks the one of the most valid questions of all time, “Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meagre chance for developing their exceptional men?"

This I believe is where the struggle for freedom and equality in all aspects of life finds its roots and the problems we still face in life today.

*Counts, G. (1932)Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?
*W.E.B. Dubois wrote a scathing critique of Washington's "Compromise." Read his chapter entitled, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others" from his book, Souls of Black Folks. The critique can be found at:


  1. In thinking of Dubois's question I can't help by think of Woodsen's remarks in "The Mis-education of the Negro." It reads "to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching. It kills one's aspirations and dooms him to vagabondage and crime" (p.8). These thoughts are reflected in the thoughts of William Craft expressed in Clark's novel and by Dubois reflections in "Does a Negro need separate schools." It seems the answer is no, hence the need for action/fight. I like your reflections miz J.

  2. The quote, “Freedom is never given; it is won” also caught my attention. Those who partook in the Underground Railroad movement, ran the race and fought the good fight for equity. As I mentioned in my response to Melissa, courage was more than just words, but rather a way of being. It took actual doing to make a difference. Your selected quote supports this very notion of faith without works is dead. Freedom unfortunately was and still is not a birthright for all.

    Though I agree with you that it does take an exceptional person to be a leader and to lead something as deeply rooted and impacted such as freedom, the Underground Railroad was comprised of a network of people, each playing a pivotal role, and each being a leader in their own way. For example, in The Rains, author Sulayman Clark (2007) provides readers with varying types of activists. He writes, “Together these anti-slavery advocates formed a veritable army comprised of dedicated activist who perform specialized roles…these intrepid souls completed countless rescue missions by traveling back and forth into hostile territories to bring thousands of slaves out of bondage” (p. 29). He shares that William Still recognized the different types of roles advocates filled. Leadership took various forms as did the roles filled by advocates. This idea is also seen in the Treaty of Guadalupe: “The Mexican American people have shown fierce determination in their campaign to attain equality in education. Their struggles have taken a variety of forms: litigation, the efforts of advocacy organizations, the leadership of individual activists, confrontational and peaceful political demonstrations, and Mexican American-initiation legislation” (San Miguel & Valencia, 1998, p. 394). Action took various forms and looked differently pending on the specific role played. So in a sense, all who actively pursued freedom and partook in the movement, were leaders, as they were an example and paving the way for many others.

    You bring together important concepts—leadership, fighting for freedom, and educational equity. As an educator, these concepts are and need to be important to us every day. We need to be leaders in the classroom as we are responsible for our students’ learning. We need to be leaders at our school in striving for excellence. We need to be leaders in the community by supporting one another. We need to be leaders for our nation, as today’s children are the hope for the future generations. As educators, we need to be the example as the fight for equity continues.

  3. Jessica:
    I believe this idea of leadership was very prominent in our second day at the Freedom Center. Throughout all of history we have seen leaders that sacrificed their lives and even the lives of their children in order to provide freedom for people they might not even know (i.e. the future children of the world). When reflecting on your post I am instantly reminding of our discussion of Henry “Box” Brown and his heroic escape to freedom. As we recall Henry was placed inside a box and shipped to the North. Even with lack of air and multiple mishaps, such as traveling on his head, he was able to make it to freedom. What surprised me most was how through our trip and each time we heard this story we always focused on the idea of Brown making the 26-hour trek. Although this was a heroic and almost impossible venture the one person that showed true leadership in the story was the man that boxed Henry up and then shipped him. Samuel Alexander Smith was a white storekeeper that assisted Brown in the packing and shipping. As our tour guide, Jason, said in Philadelphia, “We rarely think about who boxed Henry. Henry was a slave and when he made his escape he had nothing to lose. Sam however, being a white shopkeeper and helping a runaway slave, had everything to lose and nothing to gain.” I think this idea of leadership, as you so eloquently put, is when it is not about yourself but it is doing an act for others. Samuel could have turned the other way and not put his family in danger. Instead Samuel took and opportunity, a chance of freedom, and went one step future and helped Henry devise and follow through a plan. He made freedom accessible even with the fear of losing everything. In reality this story of Brown's escape is legendary not for the impossible journey he took, but also the strength of two different men that worked along side to accomplish one step towards equality. As mentioned in Eleanor Roosevelt's Address to the National Conference on Fundamental Problems in the Education of Negroes, "We go ahead together or we go down together, and so may you profit now and for the future by all that you do." Leadership is important to help create an world with accessibility to freedom and education, however leadership does not mean we need to do it alone.

  4. Jessica, I too thought many of those quotes you had posted really do encompass the struggle for educational equity and how we still struggle for that impartiality even today in our society. One of you quotes that really stuck in my mind was that of Nelson Mandela. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains’ but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. I related this quote to what we see in our education system today. How are we as change-makers closing the achievement gap in our classrooms? We see how easy it is to help improve an energetic learner’s capabilities, but how are we helping improve those that are put into that low-achieving box so that they are rising academically in our schools? Paula Fass’ article, “The IQ: A Cultural and Historical Framework”, made me look at the idea of standardized testing that we are implementing in our schools today and how there are so many flaws and concerns on this so-called “standardized” test. With No Child Left Behind, we are basing a child’s ability on one test and are not looking at the whole picture. The article mentions, “Mental testing is important in the United States not because it dominated American psychology for a generation, although this is interesting, but because it crystallized the interests and needs of a whole culture. It provided Americans with a powerful organizing principle, a way of ordering perceptions, and a means for solving pressing institutional and social problems.” (p. 434). This really makes us look at how are tests are put into place in our schools and what results we are basing our decisions on. It makes me question whether or not these tests are designed for the whole or if they are created for the upper class who control our society today to make evident that line of separation between the “high” and the “low”. This also brings up the idea of tracking and how our students are not even given the opportunity to be taught in the same manner as their peers. Donna Marie Harris’ article, “Curriculum Differentiation and Comprehensive School Reform: Challenges in Providing Educational Opportunity” looked at a comprehensive school reform model, America’s Choice, and how this model “envision[s] that all students, except the severely handicapped, are expected to be exposed to high-quality curriculum and instruction…” (p. 846). We as educators need to look at the true intentions of No Child Left Behind and provide that “high-quality curriculum and instruction” for ALL students. But the real question lies in how are we going to create that “high-quality” instruction when we have such a mixed level of students in our classrooms? This is where we need to look to our “highly qualified” teachers to come up with the plan to help those that are already in the disadvantaged position.

    *Paula Fass, “The IQ: A Cultural and Historical Framework”
    *Donna Marie Harris, Curriculum Differentiation and Comprehensive School Reform (2011). Educational Policy.