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Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass

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To be successful, the possession of specific skills and the ability to perform certain tasks has an underlying process of learning that one must go through in life. In ‘Learning to read and write’  by Frederick Douglass, the author shares his background as a young slave boy who, without a proper instructor, attempts to learn how to read and write. Douglass speaks in his essay about his unconventional ways of thinking and writing while becoming aware of the current world he lived, including the disparity between the feelings and thoughts of literate and illiterate slaves. You can see through this essay the dedication that even though all odds were not in his favor, Douglass had to become more educated for himself and his future. Knowledge and learning processes are a power and a curse. Frederick Douglass demonstrates that gaining knowledge is not just about being knowledgeable in the long run, but also about improving yourself, those around you, and the world around you.

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The process of learning something new is not about being on the same level, but about being outstanding. Based on reading, the fact that Douglass grew up as a slave where Master Hugh dictated everything about his life was an external factor that caused Frederick Douglas to struggle to read and write. Every individual on earth has confronted life under different circumstances where our cultures and social environments externally influence how we are shaped and developed as a human. Looking back at the reading Douglass says “ My mistress, who has kindly commenced to instruct me, had,in compliance with the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, but has set her face against my being instructed by anyone else.” Douglass recites the external factor that he encountered when he tried to become literate. The environment that Douglass found himself in as a slave, dictated what he was and was not allowed to do. Master Hugh not only prevented him from being educated by prohibiting the mistress from teaching him, but in general, by not allowing anyone else to do so. In that same citation, one can see that the mistress stops every attempt at him becoming more educated. To support that Douglass says; “She seemed to think that here lay the danger…. and snatch from me a newspaper in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension”. Danger was the term that Douglass thought would have been used if he had been educated because it would be a threat to the overall social status and capital of the master and his Mistress. Both believed that slavery and education were not compatible because Douglass would always be inferior as a slave and a person of color.

An education gives you the experiences you need to formulate your own views on the world. Besides the external struggles Douglass faced while trying to obtain an education he realized that that reading and writing could be his way to freedom and decided to learn to do so at any cost. As he tried to take advantage of his surroundings, Douglass states “The Plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful was that of making friends of al the little white boys whom I met in the street.” This can be seen as a component of both, where Douglass uses the boys as educators to learn how to educate themselves while creating social ties. In addition, Douglass uses his determination, dedication and his hunger for freedom and education as an internal factor to seek the resources he needed to be able to understand the world he was living in. For example, Douglass says “With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent to errands, I always took my book with me, and by doing one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return” Meaning that these kids taught him how to read but he outsmarted him in the long run because they didn’t know the benefits they were giving him. As a dedicated student, Douglass always did what he had to do at a much faster pace for him to be able to spend most of time learning.Furthermore, Douglass exchanged bread to poor white kids for education, this act benefited both parties. At the age of 12, Douglass obtained a book called ‘The Columbian Orator” where Douglass awakens from and discovers that with an Education he can gain his freedom. The knowledge Douglass had of outsmarting people and managing his time were an internal factor for him to learn how to read and write.

For life to exist, there must always be an education.In order to understand his surroundings, Frederick Douglass needed an education. Douglass, did not have the same opportunity of obtaining an education like the generation today.  

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