African Politics - Compare & Contrast - Learning To Read” by Malcolm X and “Learning To Read And Write” by Frederick Douglass

Michael Dawkins
 African Politics
Essay: Compare & Contrast




                        In the Untied States, education is often taken for granted. Education is taken for granted by: the government, society, the education system, the parents and the children. Look back in the past and see how people risked their lives to learn, how people strived for knowledge under uncompromising conditions. “Learning To Read” by Malcolm X and “Learning To Read And Write” by Frederick Douglas are inspiring examples of how they learned to read and write despite the odds against them.
                        Before Malcolm X was called by that name, his birth name was Malcolm Little and later on he was known as Detroit Red. He was a hustler who schemed from Boston to Harlem. He always was in trouble with gangsters, law enforcement and with narcotics. Finally one day it all caught up with him and he was incarcerated for ten years. While in prison he was introduced to the nation of Islam and became interested in their teachings. “I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially those to Mr. Elijah Muhammad”, Malcolm states as his thirst for knowledge intensified. He started reading many books however couldn’t understand the words in some of the sentences. This led him to read and copy every word in the entire dictionary. In prison, lights went out at ten o’clock so at that time he would go to the edge of the cell and continue reading with the little bit of light outside in the corridor. When a guard came he jumped back in bed and pretended to be sleeping and then continued reading after they left. After he left prison and started giving speeches in public, people were astounded by his articulate vocabulary, not believing he only had an eighth grade education. Malcolm continued fighting for African American until he was brutally assassinated at the most pivotal point of his life.
                        Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818 in Maryland. As a young child he lived in his slave master’s house. At first the mistress of house was a “kind and tender hearted woman” who treated Douglass as a human being and taught him the basics on how to read however she soon grew cold when her husband kept question why she was being nice and humane to the slaves. The mistress didn’t allow Douglass to read anything; she scolded him for reading a newspaper. He secretly kept reading. He read a book named “The Columbian Orator” which was about a slave who was voluntary emancipated by his master, this made him more eager for freedom. Douglass also found out that he would be a slave for the rest of his life, he felt that by learning to read was a curse rather than a gift. He developed a plan to further his reading skills. He befriended poor “little white boys” whom he met on the street and asked them to teach him how to read in return he would give them bread. He then learned how to write by observing ship carpenters who wrote on the various parts that were to be put on the ship. From that he began copying the letters. Then he would challenge any boy he met who knew how to write and from there he learned how to write more letters. He also secretly started observing his Master’s old copy-books and writing in them. After he learned to read and write, he started planning for his escape.
                        It is easy to see that both Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass tried to educate themselves in the best way they could think of despite being in captivity. Both men found education to be essential to life, to get where they needed to be, to fulfill their goals. In both of the men’s experiences they had a choice to either maintain the status quo and remain ignorant or become knowledgeable of the world around them. The education that these men had developed caused them to be the great leaders in this country’s history who fought for the rights of black people.
                        Although both men learned how to read and write, they were both in different situations. Malcolm had known how to and write from when he was in elementary school however his hustling days had numbed his previous knowledge. When Malcolm started reading in prison, he realized how little he new and how limited his vocabulary was. Douglass on the other hand no previous knowledge of reading or writing because he was a slave. It was forbidden for slave to be taught anything because people (slave masters in general) felt it was unnecessary and they also feared it would cause slaves to up rise and revolt if they gained any substantial amount of knowledge. This also leads to the different eras these men lived, Malcolm during the 1940’s and Douglass during the mid 1800’s. The setting also differed, Malcolm was incarcerated and Douglass bonded to slavery. Though both these men fought for the rights of black people, Malcolm strived for the basic human rights for black people and to start a Black Nationalist movement and on the other hand Douglass battled for the abolishment of slavery. 
            Although the times and places for both these men differed that didn’t make there need for knowledge any less important. Just imagine what their lives would have been like if they had sought education. Malcolm would’ve been paroled from prison and lived an ordinary life as a Black Muslim not the influential speaker for the civil rights movement that he later became. Frederick Douglass would have continued living under his master’s rule for the rest of his life not becoming the famous anti-slavery speaker and Underground Railroad leader he later became.

           Had it not been for them wanting to have a higher education they would have remained in their unpleasant conditions for the rest of their lives. The world would be a very different place then it is today. This is why education should be the most valued asset in this country. Why should this country neglect the children who will shape the future of this world? Why should the parents not care if their child receives a quality education that their future depends on? Why should the children not engulf every bit of knowledge they reach as if their lives depended on it? If this country turns its back on education, it turns its back on the future.

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