Being that I am going into the field of education after graduation, I was very touched and humbled reading G.’s story in “A Fly In Buttermilk.” The evils this young boy faced and his reaction to them was a very shocking read, but the thing that did not surprise me at all, but which I believe Baldwin found shocking, was G.’s silence. He did not speak of any of the traumatic experiences beyond stating that there was “name calling” and one case of him being tripped in the hallway. But this is what a lot of kids, in my experience, tend to do: they internalize their experiences. And this is probably the biggest fear of mine in becoming an educator, that I will not be able to help children achieve the ability to vocalize their experiences.
One line that particularly affected me upon reading this essay was Baldwin’s take on the general public’s reaction to integration: “admiration before the general spectacle and skepticism before the individual case” (CE, 188). This attitude toward integration is generally what I believe is the current state of education today, and it perpetuates the silence of students. I do not believe anyone in this country would argue that education in and of itself is an objectively bad thing. However, I agree with Baldwin’s claim in “Nobody Knows My Name” that most Americans “have so little respect for genuine intellectual effort” (CE 201). This is the experience I myself faced attending public high school in New York, as I would consistently see kids attempting to coast through school without actually desiring intellectual stimulation, and their parents would perpetuate this behavior by consistently arguing with teachers and administrators. Those who cared about their education were the most silent, and those who did not were the most vocal. Generally, people admire the spectacle of school: playing sports, socializing, and hopefully getting a diploma by the end of the whole experience. But with regards to the individual case, the few kids trying to learn something to bring value to their own intellectual stimulation, people are skeptical, and this is why the silence of those who care for their education continues.
G.’s story is inspiring, but not surprising to me, because he and his family genuinely desired a good education and not the spectacle of school as so many families in American society do. His silence as a “weapon,” as Baldwin describes it, is then logical to me because it is the sign that he was able to put his mind toward his education and not let the spectacle distract him. G.’s silence is a sign of his dedication to his education and it is a powerful weapon because it allows him to not fall victim to the retaliation that would lead him into the side of school that is spectacle. But the weapon of silence also has a fatal downside, because while it helps individuals ignore the general spectacle of our current system of education, it does not stimulate any change in that system. Individuals can get by if they are one of the few “truly exceptional” students as Baldwin notes, but this is generally not the case. So, while silence and pride protects the individual, they do little to improve universal school reform. I do not know what the solution to this issue is, as all of Baldwin’s statements in these essays still have vast implications today. But if America somehow learned to love learning and be vocal about that love of learning, I believe some of the issues of our current school systems could be solved. I am sorry if this was a very niche and unorganized post, but I have a lot floating around my mind when it comes to education issues of the past continuing into today and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts.