Home History Frederick Douglas, And His Idea of “The Double-Edged Sword” of Education

Frederick Douglas, And His Idea of “The Double-Edged Sword” of Education

Education is a ‘double-edged sword’. Being enlightened by the works of great minds before us cannot come without realizing dark truths about humanity. Frederick Douglas explained this concept in “Learning to Read and Write”. The idea of education being a double-edged sword was never more true than for Frederick Douglas. The more Douglas learned about society around him, the more he realized how unjust his position was. In the following quote, Douglas eloquently describes the negative side to his education “I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moment of agony, I envied the fellow slaves for their stupidity…Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me.” The goal of this paper is to use this quote from “Learning to Read and Write” to explain how education is a double-edged sword.

While education had granted Douglas the ability to read and write, education also allowed his curiosity to help him understand the true nature of his slavery. Though he learned of his people’s history, Douglas couldn’t help but also study the tales of families like his own being rounded up and being auctioned off to an unfair indentured life. With this in mind the idea of education being a double-edged sword becomes easier to understand. The more he studied the more aware he became of his unfair reality. Hateful editorials discriminating against people who shared his skin color were mirrored in the laws that governed his country. Eventually he discovered a truth that he did not originally understand, he was being enslaved for the duration of his life for no other reason than his skin color. He had been labeled as subhuman. His civil rights were virtually non-existent and he could be sold as if he were property. The harsh side of education for Douglas was understanding that he was enslaved for the color of his skin.

Benefits of education are rather obvious today. Learning to read, write, along with a comprehension of basic math will help an individual interact effectively with others and become a working member of society. Education also creates further entertainment options, novels and newspaper cross-word puzzles would be useless to someone who could not read. To Douglas however, the cons may outweigh the pros. Douglas explains that in times of hardship he would almost prefer to be like his fellow slave; blissfully unaware of the true injustice being performed. Douglas explains this when he states, “I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.” Life may have been much easier for him to live had he never attempted to understand his condition. The realities of inequality learned by Douglas are not ones that cannot be forgotten.

Although Douglas considered his education to be a curse, his education did pave the way to his eventual escape. Without his ability to read he would likely not have been able to discover that north of his location slavery was outlawed. With an educated mind he was able to map out and eventually execute his daring escape. To Frederick Douglas, education truly was a double-edged sword. Education forced him to understand and resent his enslavement, but it also created a burning desire inside him to be free. Without that desire, the works of Frederick Douglas (which have inspired African-Americans for generations) would likely not have been published. The idea that education is a double-edged sword is explained in Frederick Douglas’ “Learning to Read and Write”.


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