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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1800s: The Tiers of Education

1837: Private school is the norm for the wealthy, as reformers like Horace Mann begin to push for an organized public system known as Common schools. Women begin to enter the teacher workforce, receiving less pay but 'valued' for the femininity they brought to the classroom.

1848: Georgia Slave Code: "If any...person, shall teach any other slave, Negro, or free person of color to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court."

1851: Massachusetts passes first compulsory school attendance laws. By 1918, all states have passed similar laws. Enrollment of women increases throughout this time.

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1790: State constitution of Pennsylvania calls for free public education for poor children. 
  • 1827: Massachusetts passes law making public school open to all and free.   
  • 1840s: Irish immigrants fight for local control of schools so that their children don't have to be educated in Protestant schools.
  • 1845: Frederick Douglass publishes 5,000 copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass learned the alphabet from the wife of his former owner, who condemned the teaching. The moment radicalized Douglass’ understanding of the relationship between education and freedom. 
  • 1851: Sojourner Truth speaks at the Woman’s Convention in Ohio, challenging racism within the women’s movement.
  • 1861: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself is published by Harriet Jacobs
  • 1862: Penn School for the formerly enslaved is founded. The school later transforms into a center that serves as a retreat site for the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition and for conscientious objectors of WWII. It continues today as a historical preservation site of Gullah culture and a provider of family/youth services and environmental education.
  • 1940s: Gullah communities in South Carolina maintain restorative justice practices and language traditions with origins in West Africa.* 
  • 1964: Freedom Schools are set up across the nation as part of the larger Freedom Summer Civil Rights Project. 
Discussion Questions:
  • Why was literacy for black people such a threatening act that it had to be punished by fine and/or whipping?
  • Discuss this statement: It is in the interest of society to have well-educated citizens.
  • Discuss this statement: Literacy isn't as relevant in a digital world.
  • Share a moment of "power" that has come from reading or writing.
  • Based on the education you have received so far, what do you think is the intention of this education?
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