Saturday, March 17, 2012

When I went to school every classroom had a picture of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  Along with the pictures there were the stories- the classroom apocrypha that everyone knew.  Washington chopped down his father's cherry tree and confessed, Lincoln walked to school five miles a day in the snow (a story my father recycled every time there was a transit strike and we thought that a good excuse to skip a day).

As I  proceeded through school in the stormy sixties and seventies, the apocrypha expanded to include stories of the Civil Rights movement.  No matter your political bent, if you went to a New York City school in those decades you knew Rosa Park sat down at the front of the bus and that there were sit ins at the Woolworth lunch counters.

In ninth grade English class we are beginning a unit of Lord of the Flies.the general education teacher was trying to get a discussion going about society. Somehow the "discussion" and I use the term only in the general sense, I have seen adolescents willing admit to crimes more eagerly than people chose to volunteer opinions, cycled around and around to the idea that society is good because it provides law and order.

So I ask, "What about the Jim Crow south?"  Were the laws good there because they produced order?
And I give the example of the black young men sitting down a the Woolworth lunch counter.

Carlton responded that if the white people would come into a Black owned establishment he would punch them in the nose.  And I tell him not to raise his hand until he is mature enough to give a reasonable opinion.  Then Carlton looks so chastised , that I am angry at myself  for squashing the one person who actually picked his head off the desk and responded.

The discussion limped along until the bell rang.  Nekema suggested that all the White people owned slaves, and I suggested someone come in with the actual years and statistics. (I had sat in a workshop where the representatives of the higher than the school level administration, encouraged us to make sure every discussion was text-based).

This all happened early in the week. I would love to tell you the follow up, but we didn't have another English class together this week.

I told the story to the teacher of the African American Studies class.
"I'm not surprised," she answered. "Ask them what features are on the new IPad, they'll know all about that.."

Yeah- cause Apple does a good job of getting that info out there.

The truth is if I  asked them what the best strategies for choosing the correct answer on a multiple choice test, or how to approach an "open response" question as to maximize  the opportunity  for the most possible points, they could talk about that with ease.

Test prep- it's our new apocrypha.

Bring back the pictures of Lincoln and Washington.  Bring back the stories -then tell me what we need to do close the achievement gap.

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