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Slaves needed knowledge to secure their freedom and live better lives, according to Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life. He argued that serfs are always deprived of knowledge and education by their slave owners, and that they cannot become free in this situation. He emphasized in his arguments that freedom cannot be attained without first acquiring knowledge, as knowledge is the only path to freedom (Douglass 12). It's also clear that the slave owner who kept Frederick Douglass advised his wife not to educate him because the knowledge he gained would ruin his life in slavery and allow him to gain his freedom in a variety of ways (Douglass 13). According to Douglass (17), knowledge enables slaves to realize that they are denied of freedom and motivates them to work on liberating themselves from such injustices. Knowledge brings about recognition for oneself and erodes the mentality of a serf replacing it with able men. The servility institution aimed at keeping the slaves ever uninformed and unenlightened, such that they will never know whether they have been denied their rights, and therefore, will not start looking for it. He claimed that the masters always encouraged slaves to excessive drinking whenever they are out for holidays (Douglass 21). It was to enable them to remain unconscious and irresponsible for themselves.
Douglass saw education as a long-term empowerment, and thus, he decided to teach himself together with the other slaves. He bore in mind that serfs are just human beings empowered with intelligence and ability to think meaningfully, as opposed to the masters’ racist arguments that the blacks were to remain slaves forever for they lacked the knowledge to lead them to freedom. Through reading newspapers and bribing his white age mates, he was able to acquire knowledge and push for abolishing slavery among the blacks (39). He also came to realize the mistreatments being offered to his fellow blacks, especially when he thought of being separated from his mother, even before he knew and was subjected to work on the plantation of a white carpenter (Douglass 67).
Knowledge was the only passage which could lead Douglass and his team from the oppression of the white. It was very vital to first acknowledge oneself, realize the value attached to them, and think of ways to come out of the slavery condition. Douglass (71) argued that the purpose of education was to awaken the oppressed and give them the way forward through an application of the acceptable mechanisms. It is the main reason as to why he began his self-education as the basic way of freeing himself as well as all the other slaves. He argues that knowledge automatically frees serfs from their captivity.
On the other hand, Coates begins his book Between the World and Me as a letter, addressing it to his son by the name Samori. It is claimed that it came at a time when the writer realized that his freedom could not be found in the classroom, but only in books. Coates (24) used to read a lot of poems written by different poets, an example being Robert Hayden, and he argues that it is what enabled him to acquire knowledge and be able to think meaningfully as well. It made him feel very powerful and apply what he had learned from the books. He concluded that knowledge discourages the creativity and innovation of the student, and thus, they should be left to read on their own and interpret solely to think big and enhance creativity and innovation (Coates 53).
Coates argues that traditional learning was aimed at persuading and pressurizing the learners than freeing them. It was mainly to equip them with the knowledge and techniques rather than practically helping them in moving out of slavery. Traditionally, education could be acquired in classrooms only without concurring with books, and he argues that what has enabled the Americans to achieve their freedom is only through reading the books and writing. He emphasized that freedom can only be secured when the oppressed team up in unison and fight for it, claiming that the foolishness and the belief that a change can be brought about by one person is what has led to blacks being mistreated (Coates 91).
Dreamers could one day awaken from their dreams and learn from the books to struggle for themselves rather than applying the traditional knowledge given to them by parents and elders. Coates (70) argued that technological advancement has enabled many blacks to become free from the slavery subjected to them by the whites. Coates (73) challenges readers in ways they did not expect, after arguing that traditional learning enabled the black student to realize and accept that they have been enslaved, rather than giving them the required directives to get out of the American’s trap.
Basing the argument on the two books, I believe that knowledge is the only key to freedom. It is because it is what enables the oppressed to come to know their current situation and apply the necessary mechanisms to free themselves. Without discovering where one is, s/he cannot make any step forward due to lack of direction. Knowledge is a permanent long-term achievement that cannot be erased by anybody under whichever circumstances. It is evident that the slave owners tried their best to ensure that the slaves did not acquire any knowledge for they were very well aware that it could be a weapon to fight them and grant the slaves an automatic freedom.
Knowledge does not prohibit the creativity of the student, but rather encourages them to think exhaustively and come up with new ideas to overcome the hard situations encountered in their lifetime. Students take it as an advantage after acquiring the basic knowledge that they can advance on their own and implement helpful ideas in the books they read from different writers. It is, in most cases, acquired theoretically in classrooms, and whenever students move out to the job market, they have a chance to practically apply classwork and major on innovation and creativity to remain competitive. There is no way that knowledge will prohibit innovation; instead, it will always encourage it.
It is also clear that it comes a time when the knowledge of a person who knows too much becomes a burden to themselves. Knowledgeable people tend to be overwhelmed by pride and end up doing things out of their conscious, only to realize that they have harmed long last. They sometimes become trapped by minor issues which can lead them to future failure. They become very much dependent upon in the community to the extent that they also over trust themselves and assume that what they do is always right regardless of its impacts on others. In this case, knowledge becomes a burden to the beholder.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Dover Publications, 1995.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
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