Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Only ________ Guy In The Room

I stand in front of my American Literature class, staring out at thirty faces that all look the same. Sure, some of them are female faces and some of them are male faces. Some of them have blue eyes. Some of them have brown eyes. The noises are different. The mouths. But, for the most part, they are all the same. The faces of young white middle class Americans.

And, here I am, an old white middle class American, leading a discussion on diction in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. And, I'm thinking, as we discuss the southern black dialect that Hurston captured so magnificently in her novel, "What the hell am I doing?" As I talk to them about playing the dozens, and the affinity of Hurston's characters for poetic imagery and euphemism, I'm mumbling to myself, "What an empty conversation."

At the same time, I am not thinking, "Gee, I wish we had some black kids in this class so we could really talk about this." It is a weird situation, for me, because I think, if I were them, I would be looking at this old white guy, thinking, "What the hell does he know?"

I mean, I have been in this generally homogeneous school and I have been at more heterogeneous schools, and, I have found that the discussion, the sharing, the learning, and the understanding is far more possible when it comes from a group of many kinds of people giving and taking, in an informed manner, in a conversation. I just don't feel that this conversation is as rich as it could be, here, but, I also feel that, as much as I try to do, I can't change anyone.

I don't know. Maybe this is an essentially unenlightened attitude on my part. And, don't think that I have given up on the concept of teaching for tolerance and social justice. But, it is hard sometimes to feel like anything is making a difference. I don't know why I am writing about this today, because I did have a pretty good day; when I sat down, this is what popped into my head.


Jami said...

I wish I could be a fly on the wall in one of your sophomore classes this year. If only to reconfirm my belief that sophomore's are a vacant, troublesome and smelly lot. Bill likes the sophomores, perhaps you could get some words of wisdom from him? Me, I got nuttin'....don't like em', never have.
Aside from teaching quite possible one of the greatest American novels ever written, what else has been going on in Stinkin' Lincoln?
Life is crazazy here wit Golden Cow, Court Warming, self defense classes for interested females at HHS and of course all the planning and organizing at school for True/False. It's gangbusters as always but I am having a really great year so I find that I am enjoying the pace more than ever.
Let's talk this weekend. I have so much to tell you and many questions to ask you. Hello to MM and buckets of love to our special boy.

-Aunt James

comoprozac said...

Though I've never taught sophomores before, I can imagine just how engaging they must be. It's important that you keep on with this sort of material b/c they won't get it anywhere else.

La Fashionista said...

I don't think this is likely it for you, but I always tend to reflect quite a bit around the time of MLK's birthday and holiday. I feel inspired, saddened by so much in our present times, hopeful, and torn that I cannot change the world the way he has. I just can't measure up to that, and it leaves me questioning what I am doing to affect positive change in our world.

I also was struck that you referred to yourself as "old" rather than middle-aged. I realize that to a sophomore there is little distinction, but in the course of life there certainly is. I wonder if you have some natural and important midlife angst happening. One of the developmental tasks of later life can be conceptualized (Erikson) as generativity vs. stagnation - often framed in terms of having children, but I prefer to think of it as purpose and meaning in terms of where you are in life.

Of course, it also might just be complacent, unsophisticated sophomores underwhelming you with all their pizazz.

You just keep on telling us about it. We gotchoo.


Boring Election said...

I don't teach, so I can't comment on the teaching woes, except I'm pretty sure you rock in the classroom and someday one of these kids will be at a cocktail party talking about his/her favorite teachers from back in the day, and your name will come up. No doubt.

On another topic altogether, may I recommend you and Monkey cozy up for some R&R w/ a nice cup of tea and the first 4 seasons of The Wire...Have you watched this? If you haven't, you must. I promise I'm not misleading you.