When Even The Teachers Know Nothing


By: Warner Todd Huston

A short column by Ray Mcallister of the Richmond Times-Dispatch scolded a Virginia Middle School for having a drawing of Karl Marx on their graduation certificate. The school replied that they had thought that the drawing represented Frederick Douglas and didn’t realize they had been using a picture of Karl Marx.

As Mcallister reports:

Richmond schools spokeswoman Felicia Cosby called last night to explain:

“She really thought she was capturing clip art representing Frederick Douglass. She did a search to pull up Frederick Douglass and this is what came up… with the beard and the hair.”


It was all just a big mistake, you see?

OK. Maybe it was. Maybe this uninformed school teacher who helped design the graduation certificate didn’t know what Frederick Douglass looked like and mistook the Marx image for Douglass’. She just didn’t know.

But, if it was a mistake born from a lack of knowledge, does this make it all better? Can we just go on and forget about it? Is there no deeper meaning here?

I say a mistake is one thing, but this whole incident reveals that not only did this uninformed teacher not know what she was doing, but neither did the rest of the school’s design committee, the school board, or even the printer who printed the thing.

In fact, these days you really don’t have to have that much knowledge of either Karl Marx or Frederick Douglass to be able to easily discern the difference between their visages nor to find as many images of either as you want. The Internet is widely available, in case they didn’t know.

But, here is the worst of it. Binford Middle School, with a 91.5% black enrollment, is an inner city, Richmond, VA school, and for a teacher of such a school not to even know what Frederick Douglass, arguably one of America’s greatest black citizens, even looks like is a monumental failure of education. Not just education of the children but of the teacher.

One would think that a teacher in a solidly black school district would be so entirely familiar with Frederick Douglass that no such mistake could occur in the first place. But, what is painfully obvious here is that this teacher had no real knowledge of the man. She must have had some vague feeling that Douglass, one of America’s most tireless anti-slavery men and confidant to Abraham Lincoln, might be a neat addition to the certificate because she sort of heard his name in connection with black history at some point, but otherwise she had no knowledge of the man at all. So, she finds some picture that vaguely reminds her of what she imagines this man to look like and she is satisfied.

But, the photo she finds is of Karl Marx, a man who spawned one of the most murderous ideologies ever created by the mind of man, a man who should be held in utter disregard as a blackguard and fool, a man who should be reviled by all.

Now, coincidentally, I recently wrote how Richmonders are forgetting their history by allowing the Confederate graves in Oakwood cemetery fall into disrepair. I scolded the Mayor of Richmond for forsaking his city’s history. Granted this was an appeal to a black Mayor not to let the city’s “white” history to be forgotten. (Though history is for all, this was, indeed, a “Confederate” issue, admittedly)

But, here we have another sad example of Richmonders losing touch with their history. And this time it is Richmond’s blacks forgetting their own history. Can we excuse blacks for not caring much about Confederate history? Not really, though at least there is an understandable reason for such a slight. Can we excuse Richmond’s blacks for not knowing black history?

Not a chance.

Especially in a day when it is assured that growing up themselves they were never even taught any “white” history in their own schooling in the first place! So the complete lack of knowledge about Frederick Douglass here is unforgivable.

I do want to be clear though. This is no attack only on blacks. This whole country is forgetting its history and it is a crime. This “mistake” of imagining that a Karl Marx image is that of Frederick Douglass is just another example of that failure of our educational establishment to teach our history.

Oh, but for a nation wide experiment in vouchers and an end to the state run public school.

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