The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story Of Prudence Crandall and Her Students

The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story Of Prudence Crandall and  Her Students

 “There were now enough students to make a real class. Prudence lectured. The girls concentrated on their reading and arithmetic. In the classroom it was calm and quiet. But if the girls stepped outside the front gate, boys tailed after them blowing horns, beating drums, and shouting insults. Someone smeared dung on the school steps and door handles, and the doors and windows were pelted by volleys of rotten eggs.

Most of the shopkeepers stuck by their agreement and would not sell Prudence supplies. The milk peddler refused to deliver fresh milk, and a local newspaper accused Prudence of trying to ‘break down the barriers which God has placed between blacks and whites.’ “The troubles came so thick and fast, it was hard to count them all.

Opening the school had been a hundred times harder than Prudence had imagined. Of course, she’d known that some people would object to black students. She’d expected some protests, but as she explained to the Reverend Jocelyn shortly after the school opened, ‘The thought of such opposition as has been raised in the minds of the people of Canterbury…never once entered into my mind.’ She had never imagined ‘that Christians would act so unwisely and conduct [themselves]…so outrageously.’

Nothing had prepared her for this ‘present scene of adversity.’ But she’d made up her mind. She wasn’t going to give up. ‘I trust God will help me keep this resolution,’ she wrote.” In 1834, Prudence Crandall opened a school for young black women in Canterbury Connecticut. Her neighbors did everything under the sun to prevent Prudence from operating that school – and they eventually succeeded in literally destroying it.

One thing I really love about THE FORBIDDEN SCHOOLHOUSE – why I was so moved by it and why I want so much to get kids to read it -- is how there is such immediacy to the story. In reading THE FORBIDDEN SCHOOLHOUSE, it is so easy to imagine oneself as a citizen in the town of Canterbury, Connecticut and to wonder whether, if one was in that situation, whether one would have the combination of faith, stubbornness, and heart to stand up for what is right, to walk the walk, to support Prudence Crandall and her right to establish a school for young women of color in the community.

It is easy to agree with a crowd, no matter how evil and wrong-headed they may be, but it takes something far more to swim against the tide. Would I be one to swim against that tide and face threats of violence and ostracism with equanimity and perseverance, or would I let the bullies win? Would I open my mouth and say no, or would I play it safe and just tell myself that it doesn’t involve me, that I don’t need to get involved, that I should just thank God that I am not one of those (current) victims of prejudice and bullying Prudence Crandall saw these young women as students hungering for knowledge and Prudence Crandall walked the walk. All that her neighbors could see was the color of her students’ skin.

When Prudence opened her school in 1834, she was ahead of her time. She is a hero who, I am sure, far too few know of. But we all know about this sort of prejudice, this sort of ignorance and wrong-headedness, for this is a mindset that we still see everywhere today whether it be in the hallways of schools or in the speeches of politicians who appeal to the base xenophobic instincts of the ignorant to gain power and exclude those who look, or talk, or think differently. Standing up for what is right in the face of ignorance and convention, standing up for those who are not being treated fairly, is an issue that never goes away. And that is why this well-written story of Prudence Crandall and her school will never become irrelevant. 978-0-618-47302-1 160 pages  Ages  10 and up

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

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