The class was moving ahead at a rapid pace and, when this young African woman fell behind, I knew it would be very hard for her to catch up. She failed the first two weekly tests and, when I spoke with her about it after class, she was thoroughly embarrassed and quietly began to cry.
I then went to see Mrs. Gadsden, who was back in Washington at this time, and who knew this girl and her family back in Guinea.
"So you think she's going to fail the course?" Mrs. G asked.
"Well, she's not going to learn the material. Whether I can bring myself to give her an F is something else. That's really hitting somebody who's down."
"You're thinking of passing her, even if she does not do passing work?" Mrs. G said sharply. She reminded me that I had long criticized paternalistic white teachers who passed black students who should have been failed -- and she let me have it.
"I'm ashamed of you, Tom. You know better!"
Now it seemed as if I could neither pass nor fail this young African woman. In desperation, I began to meet with her in the office for an hour before every class to try to bring her up to speed. At first, it didn't look like these private lessons were doing any good, but one night she finally began to grasp what economics was all about, and she even smiled, for the first time.
The young woman from Guinea did B work from there on out -- and I was tempted to give her a B. But her earlier failing grades could not be ignored, and averaging them in made her grade a C.
When I saw Mrs. Gadsden later, she said, "Our friend was overjoyed at getting a C in your course! She was proud because she knew she earned every bit of it."
That was the Mrs. G I knew. And I never expect to see anyone like her again.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM