In her essay, Ms. Williams drew a parallel between what she saw as a group of self-satisfied "white teachers" overseeing dysfunctional students (characterized by Ms. Williams as "so-called 'unteachable'" students) who were not being properly taught, illiterate and perpetually ignorant. This she considers a form of slavery. Ms. Williams quoted an arresting passage from Douglass's description of one of his masters, a Mr. Auld, happening upon his wife instructing Douglass in basic reading:
If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.
One wonders if the copy of Douglass's book read by Ms. Williams included, as do some editions, a letter written to Douglass by Massachusetts abolitionist Wendell Phillips. Phillips surmised that Douglass's experiences as a slave amounted to "[t]he cruel and blighting death that gather over his soul." An oft-quoted phrase about writers or by writers is that "writers write what they know." So Ms. Williams wrote.
Perhaps Ms. Williams's use of the phrase "white teachers" was provocative. Yet this is her reality. Her plea was not that her teachers should be fired or punished in any way. Her plea was conciliatory and did not limit blame for what she sees as an intolerable situation to them alone. She asked that her teachers -- and her fellow students -- work in concert to spread knowledge and prepare their students and themselves in such a way so as to be able to engage a mind like Frederick Douglass without frustration:
A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people not to just be a student, but become a learner.
The essay that Ms. Williams wrote was never entered in the essay contest. Instead, she was harassed out of her school by the very people whose assistance she requested.
The teacher who gave Ms. Williams the original assignment was so enraged at her essay that copies were distributed to fellow teachers and the principal. Soon after, Ms. Williams' parents began receiving several phone calls from faculty claiming that their daughter was "angry." Suddenly Ms. Williams, a model student prior to the essay, began receiving low grades in her classes. In several meetings, these same teachers refused to show Ms. Williams' parents the papers and tests that garnered lower grades. During at least one such meeting, according to Mrs. Williams, a teacher union representative was present.
Her parents decided to enroll her another school in the district. They were told that that school was full and to try another school. The recommended school was full of actual unmanageable children, one of whom asked Ms. Williams if she were there because she fought too much in her old school.
It is impossible to believe that some member of the White House staff did not hear of this story. Why did the incumbent president decline to comment? Could he not identify with Ms. Williams? Perhaps not, since the education he received from high school forward cost somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars. Could it be that he could not personalize it enough? Perhaps not, since his daughters attend the best schools money can buy.
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