Teaching racially sensitive material...

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by MissEducation, Jan 10, 2010.

  1. MissEducation

    MissEducation Companion

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2009
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 10, 2010

    This semester I planned to read "Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry" (by Mildred D. Taylor) with my 7th graders. The novel is on our list of suggested books for 7th grade. Another teacher saw me with the books and suggested I not teach it because it is too controversial. The book is from the POV of a black family during the 30's so obviously it deals with racism. She said that some of my students (i.e., the black students) might not get the difference between the book being about racism vs. BEING racist and that it will be too difficult for me to prepare them for it (I'm guessing she means because I'm a first year teacher.) I really wanted to teach this one because of the potential for historical tie-ins. Also, it's a really good book! But now I'm worried that I won't be able to "handle it" and will come across as racially insensitive to my students...what do you think?

    If you do recommend teaching it, do you know of some good resources/pre-reading activities I can use to help the students prepare? (and help myself prepare!) TIA!!!
     
  2.  
  3. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2005
    Messages:
    4,395
    Likes Received:
    7

    Jan 10, 2010

    I use this book in sixth grade, and my kids always love it. One thing I suggest is doing as much reading as possible in class. It is a difficult read, and of course the langauge can be so distracting to kids that they don't focus on the message. There are a lot of uses of n-words in this book, and you will have to talk about how you want to handle that when reading aloud. I do a lot of reading to my kids, because some of them are not comfortable saying the word or just n-word.
     
  4. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Messages:
    14,070
    Likes Received:
    1,886

    Jan 10, 2010

    I haven't read this book myself, but I do think that it is vitally important for our students to understand the difference between the book being about racism and your feelings about the subject. The cry of "racism" is sometimes thrown about too quickly and inaccurately. It's important for our students to understand what it is, and what it is not.
     
  5. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 10, 2010

    I think its important for ALL students to learn about our social history. Learning about what life was really like for black people in the 30's is important. I think its hogwash to not do the book for fear of racisim complaints. Of course, when you introduce the book, you talk about how this is a refelction of the time it was written, and how learning about our past helps us not repeat the mistakes we made and so on and so forth. Do the book. It will be a good experience for all of you.
     
  6. SunnyGal

    SunnyGal Companion

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    184
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 10, 2010

    Like others have said, I think you should do the book. I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, which is set during the same time period. I take a couple days to teach about the 30's and what the culture was like. Once they have that background in place, it makes reading the book at lot more enjoyable and students get a lot more out of it.
     
  7. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2005
    Messages:
    4,395
    Likes Received:
    7

    Jan 10, 2010

    Agreed with pp. I spend a lot of time studying the timeframe and what our country was like when this story was set. We study Mississippi, now and then, and the cultural climate of the south. I find this especially important because my students are very "removed" from this era. I teach in a school that is 98% white, 2% Hispanic.
     
  8. fratermus

    fratermus Companion

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2008
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    Friday I subbed for a teacher who had 5 classes of 7th graders reading and writing about Thunder. They handled the material well and were engaged in the assignment.

    The demographics of the school are:
    African-American 20.7 %
    Hispanic 24.7 %
    Asian/Pacific Islander 13.4 %
    Native American 0.1 %
    White 41 %
    (from the school's website)
     
  9. MissEducation

    MissEducation Companion

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2009
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 11, 2010

    Hmmm...thanks for all the great feedback. I guess I will read it. I would not normally be so paranoid, probably...just the new teacher thing. I'm looking forward to reading it more now. Thank you!
     
  10. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    I don't think it's worth the hassle; too much potential for controversy and distraction.

    No teacher---particularly a new teacher---needs the kind of trouble that almost always accompanies issues like this.

    Tons of other great books out there.

    It's sad that I've developed this outlook, but I've seen it happen too many times before...
     
  11. mkate

    mkate Comrade

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2009
    Messages:
    418
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    Hmm, I have no advice to offer (though it just occured to me that this website-- http://www.tolerance.org/-- might help you prepare for issues that may come up.) But really I am hoping you will update us on how things are going while you do the book, if you decide to. I'd love to hear how it goes. Good luck!
     
  12. SPECIALEDMAN

    SPECIALEDMAN Companion

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2009
    Messages:
    176
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    I feel that students of this age are capable of understanding and need to be familiar with social and racial struggles throughout time. I would suggest working up to this read by discussing a few historical times in racism in order to open their minds and allow some discussion.
    Please keep us updated!
     
  13. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    Page not found...

    ...irony of the week?
     
  14. StudentTeach

    StudentTeach Comrade

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2009
    Messages:
    431
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    haha, I think it's because there are -- at the end of the URL. If you click on it and erase the -- I think you'll be good to go.

    As a student teacher I will be teaching The Watsons Go to Birmingham which is told from the viewpoint of a black family in the 60's about the Alabama church bombing. They don't say the "n-word," but there is a lot of... Ebonics I guess and southern accents and I'm worried about what I'll sound like when I read this out loud...
     
  15. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 11, 2010

    I've never read the book.

    Talk to your department chair and get his or her feel for it.

    What's a good idea for an experienced teacher isn't always a great idea for a rookie-- this may turn out to be one of those books.

    It's entirely possible that it's an issue of experience, not a question of suitability of the book.
     
  16. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 11, 2010

    Lilies of the Field is good.
     
  17. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2005
    Messages:
    4,395
    Likes Received:
    7

    Jan 11, 2010

    I have to disagree with this. Wouldn't our jobs be easier if we only taught the easy stuff...nothing that was controversial or distracting? It IS worth the hassle, to introduce our students to a Newberry Award winning novel that highlights an important part of our nation's history. Not the warm and fuzzy part, but a terrible and trying part of the reason we are who we are.
     
  18. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Messages:
    14,070
    Likes Received:
    1,886

    Jan 12, 2010

    I have taught units on some difficult subjects--the Holocaust, descrimination, racism--and have found that many of the students produced their best work during these units. By causing them to look and think deeply, to critically analyze their thoughts and emotions around sensitive issues, to recognize that things are not always sunshine and roses, we help them to become better people.
     
  19. ku_alum

    ku_alum Aficionado

    Joined:
    May 24, 2008
    Messages:
    3,513
    Likes Received:
    15

    Jan 12, 2010

    Is your admin approachable?

    If so, I'd get their take on the situation. Let them know what you want to do with the book (share plans, ideas, rubrics) but ask them for input.
     
  20. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 12, 2010

    That's admirable, and it's fine as a (very) ancillary goal.

    However, making kids "better" people is their parents' job, and parents have differing definitions of what "better" means.

    Our job is to help them become better readers and writers. When we as a group (not necessarily you) have mastered that, then we can work on the other things. Speaking for myself only, as long as I deal with kids who can't write sufficiently well to prepare them for a moneymaking adulthood, I don't have time for much else.

    LOTS of books have themes similar to Roll of Thunder, and they won't expose that teacher to unnecessary criticism.
     
  21. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,019
    Likes Received:
    19

    Jan 12, 2010

    I think it is wise to do a lot of planning when reading a book like this. As a sub, I've had to jump into teaching racially sensitive material on occasion, and the discussions and questions that arise do require teacher preparedness. I've had a few discussions go in unexpected directions, because I didn't anticipate the diverse reactions from a culturally and racially diverse class.
     
  22. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Jan 12, 2010

    Sometimes kids need to be touched deeply before they truly understand just why it really does matter to read well, write well, and think well.
     
  23. love2learn07

    love2learn07 Rookie

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2007
    Messages:
    57
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 13, 2010

    I hope you decide to go for it. I'm sure you will handle the situation with tact, respect and place things in the right context. In my opinion it appears a tad prejudice for someone to discourage you from teaching it simply because the subject matter deals with what may be some racially tense issues. That's a reality in our history that kids need to be aware of and grapple with--despite their ethnicity. It's a fantastic book and I'm sure you can really challenge them and generate some great discussions as a result. Best wishes!
     
  24. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Messages:
    14,070
    Likes Received:
    1,886

    Jan 13, 2010

    I couldn't agree more.
     
  25. Shanoo

    Shanoo Habitué

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2007
    Messages:
    761
    Likes Received:
    5

    Jan 13, 2010

    My first year teaching I was a LTS in a room where I was required to teach In the Heat of the Night. I was uncomfortable doing so, mostly because I didn't know the kids, they didn't know me and I was a sub...IMO a recipe for disaster.

    And it was. Despite preparing the kids historically for the time period, discussing the use of racial slurs in the book before hand, etc., I had trouble.

    I think it is very necessary for students to be exposed to books like these, however, my advice to you would be to prepare yourself well. Know your subject, know what you want to accomplish. I think my downfall was that I was nervous and uncomfortable and the kids picked up on that. It turned what could have been a really significant learning experience into a three ring circus.
     
  26. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 13, 2010

    ---Almost everyone is prejudiced, but I'm no racist.

    ---The key word is "history." Kids have (or should have) history classes.

    As long as students aren't writing satsifactorily, there's little or no time to be teaching history or to be doing social engineering.

    I understand what you guys are saying. I agree that ROTHMC is a great story.

    What I want a new teacher to do is to extend things out in his or her mind to the discussion with the parent who one day calls and asks, "Why are you discussing race in America when my kid can barely write?"

    I harken back to my early days. A parent called and asked me, "Why are you watching such and such a movie in class [I've since forgotten what it was]? Aren't you supposed to be teaching?"


    The main issue to me is that we're talking about a relatively inexperienced teacher here. I want her (or him, not sure) to learn from MY mistakes.
     
  27. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 13, 2010

    You and I are reading that original post very differently.

    Here's what I read: "She said that some of my students (i.e., the black students) might not get the difference between the book being about racism vs. BEING racist and that it will be too difficult for me to prepare them for it (I'm guessing she means because I'm a first year teacher.)

    This isn't about a teacher being prejudiced. This is about an experienced teacher being concerned that a newbie is biting off more than she can chew. Whether or not it's the right decision we can't yet say.

    But I see a coworker looking out for a newbie.

    And I can see Mr. A's point as well. As a math teacher, I would love to teach Precalculus to my lower level freshmen. But the higher priority is getting them through the basics. Once those are firmly understood, some other teacher (or, who knows, maybe me teaching an upper level course in a year or two) can deal with the rest.
     
  28. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    2,403
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 13, 2010

    How do you teach writing without reading? Also, the curriculum might be different in the OP's school because personally, at the secondary level, I am a teacher of literature. Reading comp and writing skills are what I USE to assess and student's understanding of the literature. What you are talking about sounds like remedial curriculum.
     
  29. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    2,403
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 13, 2010

    To the OP, first I would look at your curriculum. If the book is serving a purpose in delivering the curriculum, I would teach it, and that is the only justification you should need. Many state curriculum specify teaching about the human condition, diversity, etc.

    Once you feel comfortable with the decision of teaching it, plan, plan, plan. Tolerance.org does have some great lessons. You can also have the class draw or journal about a time they were treated differently because of race, gender, or age. Then talk about the culture and setting of the book. Discuss with your students that by using the N-word in the book, the author is making a statement about THE PEOPLE WHO USE THAT WORD, not about African Americans. Also decide how you will address reading aloud of the word. I have handled this many different ways and it all depends on the culture of the class. Usually I tell the kids that I will say it because it is a very powerful word, and this author picks that word to make a specific impact. Then I sometimes tell them that it is their choice whether they say it or not, but then I have had classes where a white kid would say it and all the black kids would gasp, like she said you could CHOOSE so why did you CHOOSE to say it? But I also have classes that don't care. You just have to feel out what will be right for you. I also had a class that chose to say "ninja" instead, but then I felt like that belittled what the author was writing.

    Anyway, that is my 2 cents. I say teach it, but think about how you are going to handle the reading, and even have a back of plan if that doesn't work.
     
  30. clarnet73

    clarnet73 Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2002
    Messages:
    6,123
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 13, 2010

    My BF had an incident in 6th grade... they were reading Tom Sawyer, and the teacher hadn't effectively explained theu se of the n-word as it's used in the novel... because from a prediminately caucasian neighborhood, he 9As a 6th grader) really hadn't had exposure to the word before, so didn't know that it was inappropriate... he used it when talking to an African-American classmate, and, needless to say, there were problems.

    I don't fault him as much as I fault the teacher who had neglected to explain why most people DON'T use that word anymore and that it's offensive to a lot of people, it's in the story because that's how they talked then, etc etc etc (I don't teach this kind of stuff ordinarily in preschool!!)...

    His sister had the same teacher 3 years later... they still used the book, but this time it was explained MUCH better.

    So the lesson? Know your students, and, if in doubt, explain, explain, and explain again.
     
  31. Samothrace

    Samothrace Cohort

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2008
    Messages:
    610
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 13, 2010

    I see many great teachable moments for you. It's something that still exists and needs to be taught. Don't be afraid to teach the hard stuff.

    I did a lesson when I Student taught on segregation..we and talked about race, gender, sexuality (I had an awesome artwork that dealt with homosexuality) You might be able to spin this activity to get talking about things. I wrote down a bunch of random things...race, religion, hair color, age, gender on a bunch of small pieces of paper. I then had them tape it to their forehead. They had to walk around the room asking questions to figure out in what way they were segregated..of course it was all generals and I paired them up oddly. Like but BOY on a girl, GIRL on a boy etc to get them thinking from another viewpoint. The kids had fun trying to decipher what was on their head and lead into a great discussion. I did this with 7th grade.
     
  32. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    2,403
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 13, 2010

    Can I just say though, that it was probably better for everyone involved that this happened in school than outside of school. This is EXACTLY why I think we SHOULD teach this stuff in school - if his neighborhood and life were so homogeneous that he never learned the N word by 6th grade, then what were his family friends really going to be able to teach him about diversity? When we do this in school, we can share so many different experiences and view points from people who grow up very different than us. IMHO, the common experience is the whole point of public education in the first place.
     
  33. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 13, 2010

    You MUST teach writing with reading. They are intertextual. They are analogous to multiplying and dividing in math (some kind of operation, can't remember the term---is it inverse?)

    I just wouldn't use Roll of Thunder if I were a non-tenured teacher.
     
  34. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 14, 2010

    If you remove all the loaded connotations from the word "remedial," than that is indeed what I'm talking about.

    We need remedies.

    I'd say more than 80% of America's HS grads are in need of writing (and reading) remediation to some extent or another.
     
  35. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    2,403
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 14, 2010

    What are the "loaded connotations" of remedial? It means exactly what you said - to remedy. I didn't realize I had to put that one on the overly PC list, too.

    And I would disagree. I would say maybe 15-20% of HS students need remediation. The rest just need further instruction.
     
  36. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 14, 2010

    Sounds like we actually agree on more than we thought (except the percentages).

    It's mostly semantics...
     
  37. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 14, 2010

    OK, I have a question:

    The more experienced teacher thinks this will be a tough book for the OP to teach, and said so. Now she's apparently a prejudiced bigot as a result.

    Had she not said anything, and the book had gone as badly as she thinks it will, she would have been wrong for not being a supportive team member, right??

    So, if she really does feel that it's too much for a new teacher to take on, what is she supposed to do????
     
  38. looneyteachr

    looneyteachr Companion

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2009
    Messages:
    153
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 14, 2010

    YES teach it! Kids respond well to controversial topics and they appreciate that you trust them enough to discuss such topics - you can incorporate modern day examples of racism and let the kids talk about how it may or may not affect their lives - i saw someone else mention tolerance.org - GREAT FREE materials
     
  39. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2009
    Messages:
    3,094
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 15, 2010

    I would like to offer an analogy, if I may.

    When I was in high school, it was very common for students to work as bus drivers. One of my own classmates did this during our junior and senior years. That was then. NOW you cannot be a school bus driver unless you have had special training.

    Why don't we let teenagers drive a school bus anymore? Because, for the most part, it was far beyond their experience and skill level. It isn't that we think young drivers should not acquire the skills necessary to drive a school bus, it's just that getting a driver's license alone does not grant those skills automatically. It requires extra training and practice they don't yet have.

    That is the perspective of the veteren teacher (and several members here). Nobody is saying the material should be avoided just because it is racially sensitive. But the fact is this material can lead to a lot of situations (and misunderstandings) the new teacher may not be properly equipped (or trained) to handle yet. That doesn't mean she should never teach this book, just that she might want to start with something that has the same core lesson without the inflammatory potential of this selection.
     
  40. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 15, 2010

    Thanks, Cerek. That's exactly what I was trying to say.
     
  41. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2006
    Messages:
    7,946
    Likes Received:
    4

    Jan 15, 2010


    I strongly disagree with your philosophy. I'll try to leave it at that.

    To the original poster, I recommend you read the book. Enjoy and best of luck. :)
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

Total: 189 (members: 2, guests: 160, robots: 27)
test