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............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. Chapter Five You Will, of Course, Wish to Know All about Our School Learning and Teaching in the Freed People’s Schools A few evenings since I read Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation aloud in the night school; they had never heard it before—never were a more attentive set of men than they as I read and explained it, and the conversation that followed was pithy; every one wanted to express his opinion. Elizabeth Pennock, May 1869 Their aptitude is quite wonderful. I have had considerable experience in teaching, but never saw their like for learning to read quickly. Eunice Congdon, July 1864 The colored student does not come to us bred in the atmosphere of a Christian home and community; but too often with the inheritance of a debased nature, and with all his wrong tendencies unchecked either by innate moral sense or by good domestic influence. The later it is ours to supply. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, 1872 Those who worked with the freed people in their schools came from far more diverse backgrounds and carried far more divergent aims than writers have previous imagined. But what should we make of that? At one level of analysis, it should not have mattered whether the teachers of black learners were white or black, northerners or southerners, teaching in Union blue, Confederate gray, or Quaker black. Freed students in Liberty, Mississippi, in 1869 may have become as proficient in arithmetic under John Gummer, a Confederate veteran, as freed students in Lib- To Know All about Our School 121 erty, Virginia, in 1867, learning arithmetic with the assistance of Frank Forrest, a northern white male; black learners in Liberty County, Georgia, in 1867 probably became every bit as literate with Mrs. Harriet Golding, a local blackteacher,astheblacklearnersinthesameyearinLibertyCounty,Texas, learning to read with Mary Young, a white Yankee teacher.∞ Slavery systematically denied literacy to those black learners; after emancipation, Gummer, Forrest, Golding, Young, and several thousand other teachers provided systematic access to literacy to those learners. No matter the teacher, with skill and patience each could introduce conscientious learners to the skills of reading and calculating. It is doubtlessly true, ultimately, that any teacher with a modicum of competence is better than no teacher. A recent study of Reconstruction and its aftermath argues that a central value of the freed people’s schools was their students’ experience with interracialism .≤ Logically, of course, that lesson could be gained from southern white teachers, including former slaveholders, slave mistresses, and impoverished southern neighbors of the freed people just as well as from northern white teachers. Further, that argument could suggest that southern white teachers were more valuable than the thousands of black teachers who taught and administered schools from the earliest days of black freedom—the black teachers did not provide that sort of window into interracial possibilities. Presumably, southern whites had the added virtue of crossing a long-established boundary to assist in black literacy. Yet surely it did matter who taught and toward what vision of the educated individual they applied their craft. If it was important that the freed people had positive interracial experiences from the first days of freedom, it was also important that those experiences were with women and men who had fought for black freedom rather than for continued enslavement. If it was important that the freed people had object lessons in black intellectual achievement and political courage, it was also important that they had teachers such as the Highgates or the black union veterans or the other thousands of black teachers. All sorts of teachers could contribute to their literacy and engage them in the elementary sciences, yet each sort would have conveyed quite di√erent lessons about compassion, commitment , race, democracy, justice, and human possibility. If those intangible lessons are the lessons that have the deepest imprint on the spirit, well beyond the academic ends of memorizing the major rivers of the European continent and naming the parts of speech, then it mattered to the freed people that some of their teachers saw education as part of the struggle for an expansive emancipation while others intended only to be useful, and 122 To Know All about Our School still others intended to extend subordination. It mattered that a disproportionate number were women and men of their own race. It mattered, though di√erently, that some aid groups moved their teachers frequently, breaking bonds of trust and commitment between teacher and student. It mattered that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469604930
Related ISBN
9780807834206
MARC Record
OCLC
966902865
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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