Former Coal Miner Releases New Book: Unfit to Be a Slave
It’s well known throughout circles in West Virginia that the state’s public education system lags behind nationally, ranking 48th, according to the US Census Bureau. There’s also a lot of talk throughout the state about the need for re-education and economic diversification in the state for adults.
As coal miners continue to lose their jobs, some are looking to education as a tool for new opportunities. But starting from the bottom or starting over isn’t easy.
One adult educator, a former coal miner from Boone County, just wrote a book that offers guidance. While author David Greene says this book should appeal to adult educators, it’s also meant to help individuals outside of the classroom.
David Greene is a former coal miner, adult literacy teacher and now author. His first book, Unfit to Be a Slave: A Guide to Adult Education for Liberation was inspired by this work teaching and learning from students in adult literacy programs.
“The idea is to stretch it much more than we conventionally think of adult education,” Greene said, “huge numbers of people need to get a different kind of education.”
So for the folks who can’t make it to the classroom, Greene says his book could help. He hopes the book offers an education that helps readers understand the world more clearly. His book embodies certain educational philosophies that promote social change through critical thinking and dialogue. Greene traveled to different countries and places where these models and successful literacy programs exist, which convinced him that implementation is possible in places like West Virginia.
“It’s not just about literacy of words but learning to read the world,” Greene said.
Unfit to be a Slave
Greene explains that the title, Unfit to be a Slave, is taken from the history of the famous social reformer, writer, and statesman, Frederick Douglass. As an enslaved African American on a plantation, Douglass was taught to read. Greene says the master of the house objected to the lessons as they made Douglass “unfit to be a slave.”
“Literacy and education are aimed at making sure we are all unfit to be slaves,” Greene said. “Even though we aren’t owned by other people, decisions are being made that affect our lives.”
"It's not just about literacy of words but learning to read the world," Greene said.
Greene’s book includes stories throughout of working people and their families, “from enslaved Africans to factory assembly line workers” and also from some coal miners, like Golden Jefferies from Boone County, West Virginia.
In his book Greene recalls visiting Jefferies in 1968. Jefferies was 36, unemployed, and married with four children. Greene was speaking about potential training programs when Jefferies invited him in to look at all of the training certificates on his walls.
“What I need is a job,” Jefferies said.
Greene says these accounts are important because they remind us that reality is often different from what’s projected in media and throughout policy and statehouses. And he says he wrote the book for people of all educational backgrounds.
“This is not the kind of education where you say, ‘the poor uneducated people in West Virginia or Ohio.’ We all need education. Education is connected with empowerment. The premise of the book is that if we had more understanding, the clearest reflection of the real world, we’d have a different approach to changing it.”
Adapting to Change
And change is what many West Virginians seem to be in store for.
State legislators, teachers and parents are fighting to move the state’s education system up from being ranked 48th in the country. Common Core standards are again on the chopping block as stakeholders mull over options.
Meanwhile, folks who work in the coal mining industry face continued uncertainty in light of changing markets and regulatory forces. Since March of 2012, more than 11-thousand people with mining-related jobs have been laid off, according to Workforce West Virginia.
Greene remembers watching market forces alter the lives of West Virginians back in the 70s too, when western coal mines began to produce more coal. He notes similarities today with the rise of the natural gas industry and increasing global pressure to move away from fossil fuel energy.
“In the 70s some miners from WV went to Wales in Europe to look at the coal industry and talk to miners there. Those things can help educate people in different ways.
Greene’s book identifies schools and education programs from all over the country, as well as other less conventional forms of education proven to help communities cope with economic and social changes. He hopes his book, Unfit to be a Slave, might empower community members to improve their circumstances, should they want to.