Ninth-grader says teacher told him to read Langston Hughes poem 'blacker'

Discussion in 'Up to the Minute' started by Reader, Mar 18, 2012.

  1. Reader

    Reader New Member

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    http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2...told-him-to-read-langston-hughes-poem-blacker

    A veteran Fairfax County high school teacher has been accused of using racially insensitive language by telling a student to read a Langston Hughes poem in a "blacker" style.

    Jordan Shumate, a ninth-grader at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va., told the Washington Post that he was reading Hughes' "Ballad of the Landlord" when the English teacher interrupted him.

    "She told me, 'Blacker, Jordan. C'mon, blacker. I thought you were black,'" Shumate told the Post. The 14-year-old student claimed that when he refused to continue reading the poem, the teacher read it herself, apparently to demonstrate the style of speaking she meant.


    More at link....WHAT was she thinking??>?
     
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  3. Nova

    Nova New Member

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    She was thinking that the poem is written in a dialect common to some African-Americans at the time and NOT thinking that the student might not know the dialect or be comfortable using it just because his skin was a certain color.

    And she compounded the error by not using the student's refusal as a "teachable moment". (I don't mean she should have taught him the dialect or even tried to change his mind on the subject, but that she could have had a conversation about the meanings and value of regional speech patterns.)

    What a shame! Because Langston Hughes was a great poet.
     
  4. legalmania

    legalmania Verified Paralegal

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    These kids are not actors they are children, I wonder how she would have someone read Shakespeare.
     
  5. Melanie

    Melanie Inactive

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    hmmm....I think she may have been insensitive, but if the child was in drama class, it's not that uncommon. Please speak in a British accent, or please speak in an ebonic tone (more southern African American). Of course this is a drama course not an english classroom.

    I know I can't hardly read that poem without a southern drawl to it (which would probably have been a more appropriate word for her to use rather than "blacker").

    I guess I don't understand why he would be offended. And you're right - it could have been a very teachable moment without offending anyone.

    MOOOOO - thanks.

    Mel
     
  6. shana

    shana New Member

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    I shudder to think what she might have asked, had the poem been Strange Fruit.

    Recording by Langston Hughes:

    [video=youtube;dYy7WaAEk7c]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYy7WaAEk7c[/video]

    The poem itself:

    The Ballad Of The Landlord by Langston Hughes
     
  7. Melanie

    Melanie Inactive

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    I don't like that poem, however it is real and tells a true story. Billie Holiday sung it quite well. That's probably the only way I can imagine it being read (sung). You can find quite a few versions of this poem being sung and rapped to on the internet (Strange Fruit poem).

    MOO

    Mel
     
  8. shana

    shana New Member

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    From the Washington Post article linked below:

    If the teacher thought the poem should be delivered in a Southern dialect, she could have said so without referring to race, Cober Page said.

    Shumate said it wasn’t the only time that he felt singled out in English class because of his race.


    More at LINK

    Note: Cober Page is Schumate's mother.
     
  9. Angelonline

    Angelonline Registered User

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    OT but I had never read any Langston Hughes, so I looked him up and wow I really like his stuff, it is so rythmic I can almost sing song every poem that I read. A lot of the poems also tell the story of his time. Now I need to look for a book of his poems to buy.
     
  10. Melanie

    Melanie Inactive

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    My point exactly - she should have said "Southern" vs. "Blacker".

    MOO

    Mel
     
  11. sorrell skye

    sorrell skye Well-Known Member

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    Marilyn Bart (the so-called English Lit. teacher) missed the point entirely.

    The message of this poem has nothing whatsoever to do with an accent or regional dialect.

    The message of this poem is about slumlords, racial discrimination, and socioeconomic injustice.

    The written word, if written well, will deliver its message. This Langston Hughes poem delivers its message, regardless of the speaker, because the voice of this poem speaks the truth.

    Marilyn Bart has no business teaching English Lit. If a piece of literature has been written well (as this piece was), it makes no difference whatsoever what accent (or lack thereof) in which it is delivered - the literature will speak for itself.

    It was Marilyn Bart's job to facilitate a discussion regarding the literary expression of the cultural conflicts and idioms contained within that poem.

    I give Marilyn Bart a big fat "F".
     
  12. Steely Dan

    Steely Dan Former Member

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    The most egregious thing allegedly said is; "I thought you were black". What does that mean? I'm sure it's obvious he's black, so does she think that means he has to speak a certain way or act a certain way?
     
  13. leanaí

    leanaí Former Member

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    Seriously? This is why racism is such a big deal still, because people find the stupidest things that are said and call them racist. In order for racism to go away people need to stop getting all bent out of shape over this kind of stuff.
     
  14. Velouria

    Velouria Don't Drink the Pinellas Punch!

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    Actually, the fact that this teacher thought her comments were "no big deal" is a perfect illustration of how racism IS still a problem. It's so ingrained that some don't give it a second thought.

    Her words were insensitive and she should be reprimanded. I don't think she should be fired, but an apology, some training and personal reflection are certainly in order.
     
  15. gxm

    gxm New Member

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    That's what I was thinking. When the teacher requested a "black" dialect, the student should have responded: Which one?

    That said, I think that JS along with his parents should have approached the teacher before they went to the media and simply told her that, as JS put it, he's not "the king of black people" and to stop pigeonholing him. And if that didn't work, then go to the media.
     
  16. gxm

    gxm New Member

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    Insensitivity and racism are not the same thing. It's similar to the countless times I've been brought Spanish text to proof. People make assumptions about me based on my olive complexion and my name. Annoying, yes but racism, not really.
     
  17. Kat

    Kat Kind words do not cost much

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    My favorite poems by Langston Hughes Harlem (recongized as A Dream Deferred) and Dreams.

    Neither must be read in any particular dialect in order to understand what Mr. Hughes was trying to convey.

    In fact, that is the beauty of true literary art. It can be read by anyone and even those that can't read but are read to will have an emotional response. IMHO there is no right or wrong response to art, it is a completely subjective experience.

    IMHO this teacher needs sensitivity training and pronto.

    Nova has an excellent point, this would have been an incrediable teaching experience. The history of that era, why Hughes was so critical to the Harlem renaissance, what that era meant to african americans at the time...etc.

    One of my great grandfathers came to the USA in 1907. He became naturalized after serving in WWII here. I certainly couldn't put on a Scottish accent to read Robert Burns. One of my other great grandfathers immigrated to the USA shortly after that date from Trinidad. I have no idea how to read anything in a Creole accent. :)

    The accent or dialect has absolutely nothing to do with reading any poems by a poet. If idioms or regional dialect is used by the poet that is a teaching moment. One of my fav author's native language is Portuguese. His works are translated into English. I don't need to read his novels with an accent to understand what he is trying to say. That's just silly.

    Racism isn't just about the racists actions. It's about how the person who experiences it is made to feel as well. If this young man was hurt, or humiliated or peeved off his emotions are valid. I'm not going to tell him they aren't.

    (Angelonline I agree, many of Hughes poems read like a bebop song. But the words are powerful at the same time, there are a lot of scholarly articles you can find that talk about how the poets of this era integrated jazz and poetry pretty darn interesting). :)
     
  18. Quiche

    Quiche New Member

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    Too bad being a high school English teacher doesn't equate to intelligence. :mad:

    There are so many literary terms to describe what she wanted from him, (cadence, rhythm, hyperbole, rhyme, slant rhymes, tone, vernacular...) I'm disgusted in more ways than one. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to ask a student (or several selecting different terms) to exaggerate one of those terms to illustrate how differently the poet's words could flow? Poetry is about the voice AND the ear. :tsktsk:

    Perhaps her sociological education is the biggest failure there, don't they test/screen for the mindset in an instructor? If they don't, they should. Clearly it's as big a factor as mathematical ability, for instance, and we know they test for that.

    moo
     
  19. Nova

    Nova New Member

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    Hughes was highly influenced by blues songs, so you are exactly right that there is a cadence to many of his poems. (He also wrote plays, including gospel musicals and the lyrics to STREET SCENE, an opera or Broadway musical depending on your point of view, in 1947.)

    He was very prolific and his collected works run to 15 or more volumes. But you might like this one:

    Amazon.com: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (9780679764083): Langston Hughes, Arnold Rampersad: Books


    It's a collection of his poems and you can get it used for about $6. (ETA Hughes is one of those poets who is liked even by people "who don't like poetry".)
     
  20. Nova

    Nova New Member

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    I don't mean to defend the choices this particular teacher made. But having been graduated from a performing arts program, I will say that directors are constantly trying to find ways to get actors to drop their defenses. Many things are said in rehearsal or drama class that would not be acceptable in a different class.

    That being said, I have taught playwriting to young people and it would never occur to me to tell a student to "write blacker". And in the case we are discussing, it appears the teacher repeatedly singled out the student on the basis of his skin color. Once might be explained as an attempt to teach creatively; repeatedly is something else.
     

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