My thesis is finished! I'm going to have a few posts reflecting on what's been a really amazing journey these past eight months, next week. I'd be happy to e-mail copies to anyone who is interested in reading it.
I turned in the draft of my thesis today! Now only a couple papers away from my master's degree. Writing this history has really been an incredible process and experience (which, thankfully, isn't totally over...it looks like I'm going to continue and try to produce a publishable manuscript) - I'll post more about it once it's totally done and I feel like I can relax.
With the bulk of the work out of the way, I hope to spend a lot more time at the school I'll be teaching in the fall when they get back from their spring break. I'm very excited to be spending time in the classroom again, and am already itching for the start of the school year in the fall.
And I'm getting married two months from today...which is just crazy (in a very good way).
Posted by Stephen Lazar at 11:28 PM
Though basically well written and constructed, Country Place does not have much literary merit. It's hard to call it a bad book (like Savage Holiday), but it's definitely not that good, either. Like Seraph on the Suwanee, Country Place reads primarily like Petry chose to write about white subjects in order to be able to sell her product to a larger market.
The plot of Petry's plot is full of one cliche after another. A soldier, Johnny, returns home from World War II to a small Connecticut town and his bride, Glory, whom he suspects of having an affair. Glory actually didn't have an affair, yet, though Johnny's return drives her to Ed, who is known for involving himself with other people's wives. The town cabbie and gossip, The Weasel, observes the two together one day, and through his snooping, also finds out that Glory's mother, Lil, also had an affair with Ed. Lil is married to Mearns Gramby, the momma's boy son of the town's wealthiest resident, Mrs. Gramby. While, initially at least, Glory does present a soft feminist critique of the expectations for a small town wife, the focus of the plot is really the soap opera material.
Does the focus on white characters make race more or less visible?
Race is not a significant issue in the novel. However, the only characters in the book who seem to have any moral value whatsoever are the three black servants of Mrs. Gramby.
Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial differences meant to allow the author to focus on other issues?
Similar to the chapter in Petry's novel The Street where its black protagonist works as a domestic worker for a white family in Connecticut, Country Place depicts white people as being callous, selfish, and immoral. However, whereas in The Street, the whiteness of the immoral characters is significant, in Country Place it is not a major focus.
How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
The book makes a lot of sense in the context of Petry's other work. However, if I were to have read this novel on its own, Petry's race would not have significantly changed my reading of it.
How does writing at a time of drastic racial change effect how the author deals with issues in a homogeneously racialized world?
This book, originally published in 1947, is more of a product of the end of World War II then the the period after it. It gives no indication of coming societal changes.
Works Cited: Petry, Ann. Country Place. New York: Signet, 1950.
Next: This is the last book. I'll post some concluding thoughts in a couple of weeks.
Previous Independent Study Posts:
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Next Set of Books
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Savage Holiday by Richard Wright
Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston
Posted by Stephen Lazar at 3:06 PM
Doug has a very important post on his blog about his recent experiences in an activity called "The Privilage Walk":
Last week, on the final evening of the class, we participated in what was called the “Privilege Walk.” Each person took one step forward when they could affirmatively respond to a statement based on their race. There were about two dozen statements.Reading McIntosh's article as a sophomore in college changed my life. It, along with Ted Sizer's Horace's Compromise, were probably the two most important factors in my decision to become a teacher. The McIntosh article also set me along the path that led to my work this year on a master's degree in African-American Studies. I've used the article to start conversations about race with my students (If any of my old students are still reading this, I'd encourage you to go leave a comment on Doug's post about your experiences with the article).
A sample of some of the statements
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
The list was read item and by item, alternating between each of the two facilitators. The class members advanced one step at a time toward a line, all moving in the same direction, some more steadily than others. The statements were taken from an article called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh. [pdf version]. Most of the White people in the room advanced every step, which I expected given the point of the exercise. What surprised me, was how far back in the room the Blacks, Native Americans, and Asians were. It was sobering. When asked how she felt being in the back, a Native American woman said, very frankly and matter-of-factly, “I wish I was up there,” and she gestured forward toward the front of the room, as if to say “anywhere but here.” I was touched by the overwhelming realization that I had no idea how it must feel to be standing where she was. I learned that
The fight against structural racism, and the unjust privileges that ALL white people gain from it, must start by acknowledging this privilege, as Doug eloquently argues. And then the next step, which Doug took by posting, is helping other whites to recognize their privialge. Like Malcolm X said, "Where the really sincere white people have got to do their 'proving' of themselves in not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America's racism really is--and that's in their own home communities".
Posted by Stephen Lazar at 10:59 AM
In a recent post, I sketched out a polemic against blogging in the classroom. In response, Will posted a really great comment which echoed the devil's advocate in my head as I wrote the original post:
I think the big difference is there is an expectation that EVERY one of us learn to write. We don't expect everyone to dance or draw. But we do expect all of our students to achieve some level of mastery in written language. Now, whether they learn that through using paper or through blogging is really no that important, unless you believe, as I do, that publication in its many forms is going to become more and more a part of what we do in our jobs. The audiences may be limited and focused on narrow topics, but as it becomes easier to share and collaborate in this way, I think we need to think seriously about asking our students to become comfortable sharing their words in more public ways. That's why I think Barbara has all of her students blog, so they can experience it and be ready for a more open audience if that's required.Doug responded to Will:
The main question that I would ask about the issue of engagement, though, is in what ways are we supporting their efforts? For those students who are reluctant, how can teachers build the confidence and enthusiasm necessary to participate in a social practice that some might see as threatening, or even irrelevant.Doug's comment raised another issue for me: If I have a classroom where every student can produce a coherent paragraph, of course I want them to publish it to a wider audience. However, what about students whose writing is far below grade level? I'm thinking high schoolers who write at below a middle school level. Couldn't forcing that student to publish: a) increase resistance from the student, who is already embarrassed enough at his writing ability and b) open up the student to ridicule from a larger public audience? One of the most important qualities of a classroom for struggling students is that it is a safe space where they feel okay making mistakes. The Internet can never provide this safety.
I think there are now two threads lurking within my original post, both of which I'd like to pursue:
- What are reasons not to blog with students? I think the reasons to blog have been pretty well established. Clarence has a recent post that really shows how the power of producing work for a public audience can positively influence students. And the comments on Nancy's post asking teachers why they blog with their students belong in some sort of blogging hall of fame. However, a rigorous examination requires us to examine the other side.
- If not blogs...what? Clarence asked this as a rhetorical question, however, I think its something that seriously needs to be considered. For one thing, many (and likely the majority) of teachers cannot blog with their students either because they do not have the equipment available to them or because of filters within schools (as of now, I cannot access my blog as the school I will be teaching at next fall). I think it's important to find tools that can work for all students, even those on the losing side of the digital divide. Also, blogging is a large time commitment, which by definition means other things will be pushed aside for it. What do we risk losing? I think we need to address the questions raised by Tom Hoffman in a great recent post where he asked us to "Think of some of the best teachers you ever had. ... do you really believe that whatever improvisational, symphonic magic those teachers conjured with their minds and mouths and their whole personalities suddenly wouldn’t work in the 21st century?" I'd add, what would these teachers have given up if they spent more time teaching technology?
Posted by Stephen Lazar at 11:47 PM