I’m gonna take a different approach on this one. Before that though, let me honor this man for handling these two children exactly as he should have. Two adolescent boys squaring each other up aren’t going to pay attention to “gentle verbal warnings” or even stern ones from a seated teacher. Beyond “showing them who’s boss” however (more on that in a second), the teacher did some very important things.
- First, he persisted until the physical threat in the situation was done.
- Second, not only did he ‘lay a verbal smackdown’ on them, he explained to them exactly why their actions needed correction.
- Third, he turned it into a teachable moment for the entire class about how to handle disputes properly.
My concern, in this scenario, isn’t with the teacher or his handling of the situation at all. I don’t like how this short video itself plays into the popular “get tough” / “no nonsense” / “zero tolerance” trope that we reserve for people of color, and for people with the least economic means. We often advocate for and enact these policies because we pathologize behaviors by people of color and the impoverished as a part of our unfair, ineffective, and bigoted treatment of them. Watching a man “lay down the law” with these kids appeals to the anger and intellectual violence to which so many of us want to subject them. We are so frustrated with their behavior that we want to ‘smack them down’. Oftentimes we do, and their behavior becomes compliant; maybe even self-deprecating.
But is compliance really the same thing as uplift? Who are we satisfying? The needs of the people being ‘smacked’? Or our own desires to ‘smack’ them? And what are the short-term and long-term ramifications of using intellectual and/or physical violence to force people into compliance?
Though all of us may be stoked by the fire with which this man addresses his young charges, it behooves us to also consider what happens next. If he is as effective as he appears to be in this microscopic period of time, then I’ll bet that it ended something like this…
Not to be left behind, public education in America has sought to harness these innovations and subsequently “phase out” more traditional forms of educating. But at what cost? Nearly 40 states and the District of Columbia have started adapting Common Core Standards; an effort synchronize what children learn across the spectrum and to ensure that all the stakeholders in a child’s education are aware of what the child will be learning in the classroom. While the theory of this approach is commendable, the actual practice seeks to squeeze out some mainstays that are veritable “rights of passage” in school. One of these mainstays is cursive writing. I know what you’re thinking. “Who uses cursive anymore? Everything is online- print and typewritten communication are the dominant forms of writing now.” While I appreciate the rationale by which people employ to make such statements, the implications of failing to teach and require cursive writing are far-reaching.
Oftentimes we take for granted the fact that we can view historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and read the almost perfect penmanship with ease. The question you should be asking is, “what if I were not able to read it?” It’s too easy to dismiss the concept of cursive by simply saying “we don’t use it enough in real life.” I believe, however, that everyone who makes that claim has the luxury of having mastered it already. Every one of us can point to at least have a dozen concepts that we were taught in our formative years that have no tremendous impact on what we do now. There are aspects of math that I both have never and will never use. There are historical facts and documents that I have been exposed to that have no pressing significance in my life; there are formulas in Science that add no day-to-day value or enhance my existence. What about Shakespeare? How much has your cursory knowledge of his plays and sonnets gotten you?
But what “standard of measurement” do we use to determine what stays and what goes? I submit that the teaching and learning of cursive is not an exercise in futility, it is the practice of a valuable skill; one which still deserves our attention. Cursive writing provides many useful technical functions: it helps students in fine-tuning their micro motor skills, it teaches “part-to-whole” connections between letters and completed words, and, it can even improve spelling (which, coincidentally, is ANOTHER skill that is nowhere to be found under the adaptation of Common Core Standards).
The future will no doubt be full of wonderfully inventive ideas that will continue to help us streamline nearly every part of our lives. In addition to providing our children and their children with so many things that we did not have, we need to be sure that they also have things that we DID have as well. Imagine a world where you ask someone for their “John Hancock” and you are greeted with puzzled looks and confusion. If we continue on this course, we may not have to imagine for long. – Olu Burrell
Olu Burrell is a Howard University Alum who works as High School English Instructor in Washington, DC. He is involved with the DC Area Writing Project and is a performance poet, writer, and social activist. He is currently developing a food blog with his wonderful wife, Farran, KismetCuisine.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @oluburrell.
A new edition of “Huckleberry Finn” removes the 219 uses of the word “nigger” in the novel and replaces them with “slave.” The professor who proposed the idea said he did it because he was hesitant to pronounce the word when he was teaching the book, and because he wanted an edition “not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.” What do you think about tinkering with a literary classic like this? Have you studied “Huck” in school? How did your teacher handle the language?
Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.
“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either
‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”
Mr. Gribben, who combined “Huckleberry Finn” with “Tom Sawyer” in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that “Huckleberry Finn” had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.
“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)
Lavell Flamon, Educator Maurice Dolberry, and Grammy Award winning rapper David Banner discuss Black Leadership, the impact of Integration, and touch on the topic of HBCUs.
Moderated by: Be Moore of AlumniRoundup.com: @bemor
As we like to say, “Yep. He’s one of ours.” HBCU Alumnus Lamont Geddis is featured in this commercial encouraging folks to consider teaching as a profession. Well done Monty.
The city is one of the 10 worst-performing large school districts in the nation when it comes to African-American boys.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education study looked at graduation rates, performance on national tests and participation in gifted and Advanced Placement classes – and the picture is devastating.
National tests showed 9% of New York’s black male eighth-graders were reading at grade level in 2009, compared with 10% in 2003.