Here’s the problem that crops up immediately in our study of Frederick Douglass: “Frederick Douglass was born a slave.” And what, to a 21st century third grader, does that mean? If our average 8-year-old doesn’t understand what slavery is, the whole point of choosing Douglass as part of our third-grade curriculum is lost.
Here’s a quick experiment:
The Three Kindreds of the Eldar were the Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri. All of the Vanyar and Noldor went to Aman. Many of the Teleri also journeyed to Valinor, but twice a host of this people turned away from the Journey in Middle-earth; these two kindreds are called Amanyar, the Eldar not of Aman. The first of these were the Nandor, who turned aside east of the Misty Mountains, and travelled down the River Anduin. The second, the Sindar, tarried in Beleriand seeking their lord, Elwë Singollo.
Got it? Unless you are a Silmarillion scholar (we prefer that term over “Tolkien freak”), you’d find it very difficult to begin any kind of activity based on the knowledge implicit in this one paragraph. For example: Draw a chart showing how the Vanyar, Noldor, Teleri, and Sindar are related. Name the most prominent Eldar of each people. Easy enough, unless you have no clue about the Noldor and the mess they got themselves and Middle-Earth into at the end of the First Age. (Bet you had no idea that Galadriel was an unrepentant rebel, and that’s why she’s still hanging around Lothlorien when Frodo shows up.)
So, let’s look at our Douglass book and how we need to think about getting the kids into it. Page one starts with his birth, his birthname, and the fact that he and his mother were slaves. He was “born a slave.”
Page two tells us that Douglass lived with his grandmother twelve miles away from the plantation. He saw his mother four or five times before she died when he was seven.
Page three: when he was six, his grandmother took him to the “big house” and left him, where he began his life of servitude.
Page four: we learn that slaves were beaten. When Douglass’s “own aunt Hester was tied to a hook and whipped,” he ran into a closet and hid.
There’s our first day of reading. What key context do we need to provide to students so that they can even suggest the obstacles Douglass had to overcome in his life?