A Talk to Teachers

by James Baldwin

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What is the significance of James Baldwin's relationship with his audience in the opening of "A Talk to Teachers"?

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I think that Baldwin establishes a type of rapport with his audience in his work.  At the outset of the work,  Baldwin speaks to teachers and clearly identifies them as vitally important in their role with children, a relationship that he will continue throughout the work.  He is able to speak to teachers in a manner that does not degrade them, but rather recognizes clearly the impact that they have on children.  Baldwin continues this tone of respect by making it clear that he is "easily intimidates" speaking to a group who has such an impact on a child's life while he, not being in the classroom, does little in comparison.  Baldwin distills a vision of education that is in line with most teachers' views, helping again to generate a sense of rapport and trust with his audience:

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. 

In this, Baldwin not only shows deference to his audience, but challenges them to recognize that racial reality has to filter into how our education system treats all children.  In being able to invoke the terror of the Third Reich preceding this thought in the second paragraph, Baldwin displays that he understands fully the importance of what is at stake and how progression of this ideal is vitally important for teachers, the children of all colors that are taught by them, and the promises and possibilities of a nation dependent on both.  The significance of this reflects how Baldwin seeks to create bridges with his audience while challenging them in the first two paragraphs.  

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