Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
(Order information available at the bottom of the review.)
Simply put, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the most important books written in American history. Widely regarded as the best American slave narrative, it was written by Frederick Douglass at the age of 27, just a few years after gaining his freedom. Like most slave narratives, it includes testimonials and introductions by prominent white abolitionists to lend ethos to the author, but upon reading, modern audiences can scarcely imagine that Douglass needed a boost in credibility. His narrative structure is sound, imagery is vivid, diction is impeccable. His appeals to human decency and justice are cries we can't unhear. An early review in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper proclaimed, “It will leave a mark upon this age which the busy finger of time will deepen at every touch. It will generate a public sentiment in this nation, in the presence of which our pro-slavery laws and constitutions shall be like chaff in the presence of fire. It contains the spark which will kindle up the smouldering [sic] embers of freedom in a million souls, and light up our whole continent with the flames of liberty."
Frequently cited as an inspiration by civil rights champions and politicians, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass also functions well in modern English and social studies classrooms. Its historical significance and status as a trusted primary source are impressive, but Douglass's style and advanced, sometimes intimidating, vocabulary provide students opportunities to study rhetoric, syntax, diction, style, and more. Douglass's writings have been cited on the Advanced Placement English Language & Composition exam no fewer than three times and offer an opportunity to become more comfortable with older non-fiction, which is traditionally the most challenging multiple choice reading passage on that exam.
For use in my AP English Language & Composition classes, students focus on (and annotate) the author's rhetoric and style, and they give special attention to content related to education and personal freedom. Douglass's exquisite writing makes the first task easy; his candor eases the second as well. In Chapter VI, Douglass writes that his master once said if he was taught to read, "'there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.' These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both."
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is fully deserving of a 5/5 rating. And weighing in at less than 100 pages, even the busiest student can make time to read and annotate it well in just a couple weeks.
For book order purposes, I recommend the Dover Thrift edition because it is accurate, complete, and cheap. The print and margins are somewhat small, so annotations can sometimes be tricky for students who write too much or have large handwriting, but the monetary trade-off usually makes it worthwhile. The other $5-7 versions available on Amazon.com are of varying quality, many having printing errors, binding problems, small margins, or missing prefaces/introductions. Therefore, I personally recommend the cheaper Dover Thrift (which I use) or the Penguin Classic edition, which includes other Douglass writings and speeches. The full text is widely available online, free of charge, but few students have ever submitted quality annotations in an Ebook or from a .pdf. Proceed with caution. Still, it is an option. The book is also available at most major book stores. If you have questions about obtaining a copy, let us know.
ReadThinkWriteSpeak and the ClassCast Podcast are Amazon affiliates. As such, they receive a small portion of any purchases made after clicking links on this page. All proceeds are reinvested into this website, the podcast, or classroom/school supplies for the author/s and students.
Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? is both a book and a college course. In fact, Sandel's class is the most popular course ever offered at Harvard University. You can watch large portions of the class free of charge at JusticeHarvard.org and on YouTube. A few years ago, a student told me about the class and its videos; she said that parts of his lectures and discussions reminded her of my class and that I might enjoy it. I did. I watched all 15+ hours of video and immediately began thinking about how to implement it in class. Of course, I couldn't show that much video, particularly in a high school English class, so when I found out that Sandel had written a book based upon the course, I was thrilled.
An introduction to moral and political philosophy, Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? now acts as a cornerstone in my AP English Language and Composition classes because it forces deep thinking, critical questioning, and rhetorical discussions. Without my prompting, students will reference the book all year long in a variety of discussions and essays; they will use it to question their classmates and support arguments in their own essays. Interestingly, several universities now use questions drawn from this book for supplemental admissions essays, in admissions interviews, and in scholarship interviews (including the University of Virginia's Jefferson Scholars program).
Any person interested in moral or political philosophy, or interested in better understanding what they think is right and (more importantly) WHY they think that, should consider this a must read. It earns 5/5 stars and a prominent place in my course syllabus.
ORDER HERE: Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do?
Other books by Michael J. Sandel...
Advice for new college students. Read. Remember. Congratulations, you're ready to graduate. (Yes, it really does go by that quickly.) By Ryan Tibbens
When you arrive at your dorm, be nice and be confident. Don't be too cool to hug your parents. If dudes in the dorm feel hostile, pretend like you're in prison and punch the biggest guy in the face as hard as you can to establish dominance. Go to every class, even if they don't take attendance. Read everything they tell you to read, even if they don't seem to use it. Take notes by hand. If possible, set aside time in your weekday schedule for short naps, gym visits, and library sessions. Get involved in dorm activities. Join a club. Don't rush until second semester or sophomore year or maybe at all. Use professors' office hours. Start studying three days before you think you need to. Pack extra Febreze. Start lining up next year's living arrangements two weeks before anybody else brings it up. Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Don't talk to cops. Don't walk in the street. Don't call or text after midnight. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, and don't do some things I would.
What advice would YOU give rising freshmen as they head off to college for the first time? Leave some wisdom in the comment section below.
UPDATE: Voting is closed! Check below to see which entry won the prize!
A few weeks ago, we posted an article called "What New Teachers Should Know" and challenged our readers to submit their own advice for teachers new to the profession. We received several excellent submissions, all included in this article.
At the end of the advice below, you'll see a survey to vote for the best entry. No ballot stuffing -- ONE vote per person per day. The winner will receive a $20 Amazon gift card! Share this advice with teachers, particularly new and young teachers, and ask everyone you know to read and vote!
Entry #1 by Ryan Rondorf
Be proactive with establishing positive parent relationships! Build a healthy and consistent method of communication with families that creates a mutually beneficial partnership for student success.
(Don’t wait until the first bad grade or disciplinary issue!!!)
Entry #2 by Cassie Piggott
The best advice I know to give is that everyone sucks during their first year of teaching. Your mentor, your principal, the snooty teacher down the hall, they all were terrible teachers at one point in time. Be kind to yourself and realize there is a learning curve to teaching. Also, don’t try to adopt a style of teaching that doesn’t work for you!
Entry #3 by Amy Voigt
The first year is like nothing else; parents think you are roadkill, some kids will take advantage, and in most states, new teachers are not protected by tenure (here in MI we are a “right to work” state). That said, kids are amazing! They love new energy and enthusiasm. New teachers need mentors who want them to succeed and not who see them as competition (that happens). Advice? Try new things, but also do what your colleagues do. Think ( but not too much). Keep records- when you call parents, when they do or don’t respond, and when/if you need administrators help. JOIN THE UNION. Take time for yourself- go to the gym and the doctor when you need. Remember, while teaching is a calling, it’s also work....At least one weekend day is for FUN. And thanks, thanks so much, for wanting to teach. We older kids need you to take up the torch, to teach our grandchildren, and to continue to do the greatest job around: to build the future.
Entry #4 by Heather Brown
Be ready to admit to your students that you don't know the answers to every question. Look up what you didn't know, and report back to them with both the answer and where/how you found it. Model lifelong learning.
PRIZE WINNER ~~ Entry #5 by Kristin Grandfield Schimanski ~~ PRIZE WINNER
I always tell them that it doesn't always get easier but it gets better. The work and time we spend pays off in ways we didn't or couldn't imagine. Being a veteran doesn't mean we've figured it out because we change, kids change, schools change. Ride the wave of change and know that if you truly love teaching and love being with the kids, then we've got the best gig around.
Entry #6 by Janet Long
The most important part of teaching in high school is building relationships and taking care of people. Be yourself and find things you have in common with the kiddos. Treat them like human beings with feelings. They aren't just numbers. When students behave in ways you don't like or don't understand, don't assume they're bad or stupid. Assume they're smart and that their behavior makes sense from their perspectives. You need to convince them that what they want is very similar to what you want. Also, make time for yourself. Don't let planning and grading ruin your twenties. Go out and have fun. If you aren't happy, you won't be the best teacher you can be.
Voting is Closed! Thanks!
By Jim Dunning
[WARNING: The perspective I present here is not carved in the granite of my brain — this is what we in the high school debate world (as opposed to the presidential debate world) call a Constructive, meant to prompt responses intended to transform my opinion. That means “Write back! This is a dialogue.”]
Not too long ago, one of my students told me her life’s aspiration is to fix what my generation did to the world. I asked what she believed needed fixing: “You know, the environment, poverty, poor health care, hunger, crime-especially-gun-violence, discrimination, and inequality. All the stuff you created.” I asked how that all was my generation’s doing, and she said because we have made it worse. Admirably, unlike us Baby Boomers, she wants to leave the world better than she found it.
There’s irony in that I probably have to explain my meaning of “generation gap” to the demographic that substantiates the current reality — a fitting punishment for incipient senescence. Google Ngram neatly marks the term’s entry into the world and paints its decline to today’s virtual obscurity.
Although the term was born just a handful of years after my birth, the concept has been around since the idea of “teenager” has been around. That is, ever since adolescents transcended from being primarily a resource to a marketing demographic. I chuckle—wearily now—when I hear my contemporaries complain/lament/rail/bitch about the moral decline of today’s youth because they don’t seem to ever consider how much they sound like their parents.
Of course, this creates the Generation Gap, with opposing sides pointing fingers, invective, and sometimes guns at each other.
For me, it was parents complaining about my generation’s music, politics, entitlement, sense of entitlement, clothes, sexuality and sex, drugs and sex, etc. Our complaints back at them were about the environment, discrimination, inequality, poverty, violence, politics, and hunger — all pretty much summarized with “Never trust anyone over 30!” and a determination to leave the world better than we found it.
In fact, this Generational Gap finger-pointing has been going on for centuries.
Based on my own experience (and past belief system(s)), I can understand why my student blames me for her pessimistic perception of the world—after all, I did that once. My generation’s short-term memory is unsurprising since it’s so pervasive, but still frustrating; I almost think, given the thousands of years of its history, that criticism of the next generation must serve some evolutionary biological purpose; what it is, I haven’t figured out.
Thus, I am not shocked at my student’s assessment and goals.
But I am bewildered — primarily because of the enormous amount of historical and contemporary information available to Millennials in the form of entertainment, news, and scholarly works. A Millennial's “Thoughts from a hipster coffee shop…” recently served up this indictment of her peers--
“I’m sitting in a small coffee shop near Nokomis trying to think of what to write about. I scroll through my newsfeed on my phone looking at the latest headlines of Democratic candidates calling for policies to ‘fix’ the so-called injustices of capitalism. I put my phone down and continue to look around. I see people talking freely, working on their MacBooks, ordering food they get in an instant, seeing cars go by outside, and it dawned on me. We live in the most privileged time in the most prosperous nation and we’ve become completely blind to it.”
This brings me to my question for the Far Side of the Generation Gap. Not only do we have—literally—at our fingertips the greatest trove of information ever available to any human, but, as we look out the Starbuck’s window, what is it that we see that makes so many of us fervently believe the world is worse off than it was yesterday or last week or last year or 30 or 50 years ago?
Do we live in the “most privileged time” ever?
Not to say that the world is perfect (it definitely is not), but, personally, I can easily recall that my family never got strawberries in December in snowy Western New York when I was a kid — metonymic for access to food and every type of consumer good imaginable is unimaginably greater today than it was 50 years ago in this country. Grocery stores looked nothing like what most Americans experience now. In fact, not only does just about everything that was around when I was in high school cost less in dollars, but significantly less in the number of labor hours required to purchase it. And that leaves out all the stuff that wasn’t even thought of then but is quotidian now.
Yes, there are social and economic and personal injustices—still!— but today’s “Marches” were bloody riots when I was a kid. During my sophomore year in high school, on average, a bomb went off somewhere in the United States every day! There were armed soldiers on college campuses. My mom had to have my dad’s permission to have her bank issue her a credit card. When I was seven, my dad couldn’t get to his store for a week because race riots had burned out swaths of the city.
That stash of information in everyone’s pocket seems to back up my anecdotal evidence. Data shows that income and wealth for everyone has done nothing but increase in the past half-century--
—not only in this country, but the world…
The current narrative for Millenials is that they are unable to start families and buy houses and big-ticket consumer goods — all because they believe they are the first generation to not do as well as their parents. They all walk around with $1,000 mega-computer-communicators in their pockets, but think the world is devolving into chaos and disaster. Is it really?
What does the world look like on your side of the Gap? Comment below!
By Ryan Tibbens
Check out the CONTEST at the end of this article!
A new teacher recently asked for advice, claiming 'impostor syndrome.'
This was my response:
"Fake it 'til you make it, and don't be too upset if you never really feel like you make it (just trust student feedback and results). Ask for help; beg, borrow, and steal. Then steal more. Make the kids laugh in class and nervous when the grades are due. Make parents and principals confident; make students curious and aware. Make time for yourself. Find your favorite beer or wine, and keep it on hand. Find your favorite students and build bonds, but never let them or anyone else know that you have favorites. Tell yourself you'll go to bed early, and don't be surprised when it's 2am. Tell yourself you'll get up early, and don't be surprised when kids arrive at your classroom door before you do once in a while. Specialize in something. Attend as many conferences and as much professional development as you can in the first five years and then semi-regularly after that. Watch 'The Dog Whisperer.' Get on a first-name basis with the main office secretary and custodians as soon as possible (they run the school). Always be yourself: kids sense phonies like bees sense fear. Oh, and apply for other, better jobs ASAP."
CONTEST -- Are/were you a teacher, coach, classified employee, or school administrator? Were you an observant student? We're offering a $20 Amazon.com gift card to the person who submits the best ORIGINAL advice to beginning teachers. Keep entries under 200 words and appropriate for classroom discussion. ReadThinkWriteSpeak must receive at least eight entries to activate the contest and prize, so tell your friends. Contact us using the form below, email, or private messages in Facebook or Twitter. Top submissions will be posted and voted upon in mid-July. All entries due by 7/10/2019.
Because no one else