Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 23, 2008

Joyce, Crutcher and the N-word

Hey,I spent a little time on Chris Crutcher’s web site and saw a lot that was interesting and a few things to comment on.  First, there’s a whole section called CC Answers the Censors , which has Crutcher’s reactions to arguments against teaching some of his books and short stories in schools.  I didn’t read too much here, because I want to read the books first.  I am eager to go back to it after I’ve done the reading.  One of the stories mentioned is “Telephone Man” from the short story collection Athletic Shorts.  Crutcher describes this story as “a story about a young borderline autistic boy who lives in a home with a racist father.”  First, I thought of Joyce and her seminar topic on autism.  Second, as I read further, I found this explanation of the issue some readers had with the story:

I hate the words Telephone Man uses as much as any of you do.  That’s why I put them in the story.  They are the words of raw racism and they are depicted as such.  The “n” word (and I use that euphemism only because it seems we have lost our capability to speak real truth) is probably the single most vile word in our nation’s historical vocabulary, a sadistic weapon of a word that has been used in this nation’s history like a hammer.  You don’t hide a word like that.  You expose it.  You tell the truth about it.  Unlike the people who are challenging the story, I have confidence in our children’s intellectual ability to understand that. 

We’ve talked in class about “the n-word” in connection to Of Mice and Men, Tyrell, and just last week in our lit circle on Elijah of Buxton (perhaps it came up the lit circle on Flake’s and Myers’ short story collections as well).  Do we avoid it?  I think the answer is clearly and loudly, “NO!”, but then how do we talk about it?  And then, what do we do if someone challenges the way we discuss race, racism, racial epithets, etc?  This train of thought connects with Joyce’s comments on the “Book Lust” post.  She wrote:

As a student (and someday teacher) I’m learning that sometimes I say stupid things.  Sometimes I know they’re stupid the moment they come out of my mouth. How do we manage this sort of “slip up” in a classroom filled with children? Is there a teacher filter we’re awarded with the moment of graduation, something that we swallow that enables us to keep those stupid things in? Or, am I a hopeless romantic: envisioning every day, every word, every moment filled with deep, resonating, wonderful discussions that are curtious, encouraging, and positive? Are these fears reasonable?

What if I say something that pushes a student away, rather than lifts them up? How do I recover from that kind of devastation, and-more importantly-how do I make sure I never say something stupid that jeopardizes the fragile sphere of learning I am trying to promote?

I would like to add: What happens when we are careful and considerate with what we say, when we think we are being clear, but what we say is still misinterpreted? 

I hold on to the belief that we are models of more than how to read and write, and because of this belief, I try to see opportunity in the situations Joyce describes.  If you make a mistake, show students how to take responsibility for mistakes by saying, “I’m sorry.  I made a mistake.  I will try not to make the same mistake twice.  Can you please be understanding and forgive me?”  This shows respect, humility and reminds students that we as teachers and adults are not perfect. 

I know it’s a long post, but what do you think?



February 15, 2008

Reaction to Drama High: The Fight

Filed under: "Drama High: The Fight" — traverse02 @ 3:44 pm

I am guilty of judging a book by its cover. Upon first glance, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself and ask, “why am I reading this?” I figured I might as well pick up a few entries in the Babysitter’s Club canon or a novelization of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. But, cover art aside, once I started Drama High: The Fight, I couldn’t stop. I finished in two and a half hours. The main reason for this was Divine’s use of language. The dialog was very realistic and  the action was described in a very immediate way through Jayd. Basically, I wanted to see her give Trecee and Misty the beat down of a lifetime, and that pulled me right through. It was almost like the literary equivalent of watching an episode of Jerry Springer–with the baby daddies and the cookies and what not–but minus the vulgarity (plus the characters in the book had more substance than any piece of human trash that has ever set foot on that soiled stage). Overall, I am happy I was able to get over that terrible photo on the cover of the book.

Having read the posts regarding this book, I agree that there is plenty of great material here for discussion in a classroom. Divine does a good job of taking important issues like teen pregnancy, pre-marital sex, drug abuse, etc. and making them part of the norm. After all, to quote Phil Collins from the band Genesis, “this is the world we live in.” I know from our experiences observing and teaching, we have all heard plenty about what is going on in our student’s lives, and if we can present them with a text like this that pulls no punches and relates to them in a way that makes them feel like normal people, they will be more comfortable talking to us about/writing about what they think and how they feel. Also, the fact that the language is so realistic, fitting perfectly with the current teenage dialect, makes this book something easy for them to get into and see through to completion.

February 13, 2008

Drama High & Book Club

Filed under: "Drama High: The Fight" — jwill7 @ 4:17 pm

Drama High.  What can we say about this one?  It lends itself to a compare/contrast with Tyrell.  We’ve got the female protagonist versus male.  We also have a text which concerns itself with teen sex.  What I found interesting is that Drama uses the word “sex” but very few explicit curse words, whereas Tyrell pulls out the stops for language but avoids the word “sex” itself as if that were the great taboo.  I think the comparison says something true about differing approaches and attitudes toward sex from the perspective of young people.  I want to be clear about these observations and not have them misunderstood as generalizations.  That being said I think a strong-minded female, like Jayd, will call it like she sees it; sex is sex.  A manipulative/deceitful male may give sex a new name like foolin’ around to make it seem like less of a big deal.  I suppose I don’t need to make any distinctions here about race or gender since anyone is capable of acting anyway they choose to achieve their desired outcome.  Drama High definitely took me out of my comfort zone and now I feel all cold and clammy like a newborn.

My Book Club book has compensated for the departure.  I’m reading Neo-noir crime fiction from Dennis Lehane.  Lehane wrote Mystic River (w/ Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Laura Linney etc./ dir. Clint Eastwood) and Gone Baby Gone (w/ C. Affleck-dir. B. Affleck).  The book I copped is called Coronado.  It’s a collection of short stories and a play.  It makes me want to read everything he’s written.  I just ordered his first novel before coming over here to tutor so I guess I better get back to work.  Oh look, it’s READING TIME, YEA!

February 12, 2008

Drama High: language lessons

Filed under: "Drama High: The Fight" — scrollman @ 11:45 am

Joyce brought up a wonderful point about the use of slang in this book.  If you’re not familiar with the lingo, you’re in for a real education.  I think there are wonderful opportunities here to discuss language, and how stereotypes are often created and perpetuated by the way people talk.  Jayd uses slang, but this in no way diminshes her intellect.  In fact, Jayd will use different ways of speaking depending on who she is with, and what the context is.  Jayd can turn on her street wise, Compton, identity if she needs to; but she can also talk as if she were in a Harvard law class, as is described in the classroom scene, when she criticizes the Constitution.   Mrs. Peterson is so clearly intellectualy outmatched in this argument, and can only counter Jayd’s superior reasoning by doing something punitive. 

In her post, Joyce also mentioned the many different “fights” that happen in this book.  I think these “fights” are fought and won with the use of language.  Jayd is a master communicator, and is able to work through her problems (most of which she inherited) by her powers of reasoning and communication.  In many ways, Jayd reminds me of Hamlet.  She’s kind of forced to deal with a mess that she didn’t create, and spends most of the book thinking of ways to get around it.  Like Hamlet, she intellectually outclasses just about everyone in the book, with the exception of her grandmother.  I love the way she pulls apart the insipid arguments of Misty and KJ; does this remind anyone of Hamlet doing the same thing to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?  


February 9, 2008

Drama High: The Fight

Filed under: "Drama High: The Fight" — Joyce @ 6:33 pm
Just a few things to consider while reading Divine’s work for next week.

There are several kinds of fights that take place in the novel; physical fights, historical fights, emotional fights, sexual fights- which one, would you say, is “THE” fight? Why do you think this fight stands apart from the others?

Throughout the book there are many examples of positive modeling. For instance, on page 125, Jayd says “I don’t really talk about anyone behind their back, but rather I tell people what I feel to their face.” What other behaviors are modeled for readers? What kind of effect can this have on a reader? Is there any reason to believe this book will influence readers to make the same choices?

South Bay High has a problem with racism. Jayd is mysteriously ejected from the AP track every year, and must reassert her course choices. Consider her struggles with the history teacher over the constitution. How does the book counteract this teacher/school racism?

What purpose do the titles of each chapter and quotes from musicians serve? (If any?)

Throughout the book, the characters talk in slang. This makes for difficult reading to someone who does not usually speak in this same way. Consider the opposite- a student who speaks in slang that confronts reading a language that differs from her/his own. Is there a language barrier in the classroom that favors a certain type of student? How can we as teachers bridge that barrier to make the classroom reading experience more equal?

Just a few topics, I’m sure Jonathan will add to this.


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