Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fair & Balanced Education

This is making me ill.

I'm grading my midterm exams for my WLIT class; I've graded half a dozen so far.  For the essay question on Frederick Douglass, four out of the six have devoted their essay to claiming that Douglass was "bias" because he didn't tell the "slave-owner's" side of the story; or that the slave narratives I gave them from the WPA site showed the "true" story of slavery, which was that it had "good" to it.

(No, btw, the narratives I gave them showed no such thing.  One, this one, John White of Texas, talked about his mama being let to marry the guy on the next plantation.  This guy gets to come visit when he's done with his work in the field, for a time; but then one day he just never shows up again.  And John?  When he's eleven?  He gets sold to Texas and never sees his mama again. Once in Texas, he is worked as a cook, beaten with a bullwhip, left hungry and cold --  My student who cites this essay claims John is showing the good in slavery, because, you see, his parents were allowed to marry.)

What is up with this?

Why do they think slavery has "a good side"?

Why do they think the side of slave-owners should be heard?

I can't prove this, but I have suspicions: many of these students have been educated here in the River Valley, at Christian Schools, or home-schooled with Christian curriculums.  We've all heard what those curriculums have to say about slavery in the American South.

"Slave life was...a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care."

"Slavery...was not an adversarial relationship....because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a partnership based on mutual affection and confidence."

Now I don't know my students were taught from this text; I hope to shit they weren't, in fact.  But from their reactions to Douglas, and to the WPA interviews; and from how they utterly refused to hear anything I said in rebuttal to their assertions in class that the WPA interviews were "evidence" that the slaves liked slavery ("She says here that they had two dresses!" one students told me.  "She says they got lots of food!"

I stared at the class in astonishment.  "Two whole dresses?  Really?  How many dresses do you think their owners had?  How many do you lot own, by the way?"

They scowled at me, sullen.

"And read me the part about the food, will you?"

"They got Christmas off!"

"They got three days at Christmas off.  Good --" I bit off the swear word.  "Did you read the part where John White was sold away from his mother?  Did you read how the little girl was dragged out and beaten for spilling the soup?"

"My mother whipped me for spilling things plenty of times," one of them said sulkily.  "Big deal.")

Nothing I did made a difference.  Slavery is a good thing.  Frederick Douglass is prejudice against them white folk.

It's the World they're making for us.


Bardiac said...

Oh, my. I'm guessing that's an all white class? Scary!

tonkelu said...

I bit off the swear word.

Kudos to you because, honestly, I would've gone ape shit.

delagar said...

Bardiac, the class has three black students, one of them a returning adult -- he sits in the back and seldom speaks -- and two young women. But blacks in Arkansas hardly ever speak up in these situations, and I can't say I blame them.

delagar said...

"Hardly ever" is too strong -- it depends on the student.

tonkelu said...

I just bought this book for the Tonklings at JP's book fair- mostly because I've been reeling since reading this post and refuse to raise a child that believes slavery is anything but evil and wrong. Since your students seem intellectually stunted when it comes to slavery perhaps they'd do better with something more in line with their mental capacity on the subject?