The Corner

Reading Frederick Douglass in Rochester

Here is a sincere question: Why have the good people of Rochester, N.Y., failed to tar and feather school superintendent Bolgen Vargas as a prelude to running him out of town on a rail?

Mr. Vargas is fortunate enough to have in his charge one Jada Williams, a 13-year-old eighth grader who voluntarily took on some difficult extra work: reading Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life and writing an essay on the subject. Frederick Douglass is dangerous reading, truly radical stuff. Miss Williams, like most of the students in her dysfunctional school, is black. Most of the people being paid to go through the motions of teaching them are white. Coming across the famous passage in which Douglass quotes the slavemaster Auld, Miss Williams was startled by the words: “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.” The situation seemed to her familiar, and her essay was a blistering indictment of the failures of the largely white faculty of her school: “When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself.”

Her teacher was so offended by the essay that she circulated copies of it to the rest of the faculty and to the principal. Miss Williams, an A student, suddenly began to receive Ds. According to accounts, her mother received harassing telephone calls from teachers who suggested that she was in some way disturbed rather than merely observant. She was forced eventually to withdraw from the school and enroll in an even worse one. (The Blaze has more.)

The best Mr. Vargas could say was this: “We could have responded better. This is a situation that was definitely not handled the best way.” To say the least: Teachers refused to show Miss Williams’s mother the schoolwork she had allegedly performed poorly on, and they refused to answer many of her questions about her daughter’s performance and alleged behavioral problems.

The teachers also failed to enter Miss Williams’s essay in the contest for which it was written — intentionally sabotaging her chances at an academic honor.

Miss Williams received an award from the Frederick Douglass Society Foundation of New York and had the chance to tell her story on Glenn Beck’s television show. But most students in her situation will never have such an opportunity.

As Douglass observed: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” How about it, Rochester? How much of this are you willing to quietly submit to?

NOTE: Corrected since first posting.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More