Discuss Here!!! Book Club

Good evening educators,

We’ll use this thread for our discussion on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  The questions are “How can I positively impact the education of AA students?” and “How do we sustain positive cultures, and how can we motivate and inspire students to learn?”  These questions provide a frame for our discussion; however, our discussion is not limited to these questions.  Feel free to pose your own questions.

27 thoughts on “Discuss Here!!! Book Club

  1. Let’s start off with general thoughts and questions. I think the book is great in that it’s an actual letter to his son. As a very personal letter, it resonates (and will resonate) with his son’s generation as they continue to come of age. As I read it, I read it almost like a guide book.

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    • Ok let’s try this again. The book took me back to my college days. I went to an HBCU 30 min. from Howard University. Coates hits it dead on with his description of the Mecca. Entertainers/ Rappers and other Black students would travel to the Mecca during Homecoming just to feel at home and safe even if just for one weekend. Entertainers would come to Howard University to get Cred and then put their music out to the world. It was the Mecca of knowledge and made our black bodies worth it, even if for one weekend.

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed Coates book, and as a highly school English teacher, I am always thinking about how can I infuse great literature into my classroom in order to get students to critically think. Coates books is definitely one that I would use to get students to start thinking or to continue to think about race and if race is a social construct. We could also talk about the role of religion, and this could lead to discussions of how religion can be good, but it has also been used to justify slavery and many other atrocities in this country and other countries.. I am constantly turning ideas over and over in my mind, and I want my students to do the same, and I believe that Coates’ book is one that can help generate great thinking points to ponder for a long time….

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  3. I had no idea that this is many kids reality in certain parts of the country. I can’t imagine not having to enjoy life because I’m constantly thinking about how to survive once I leave the school building or home or any other safe haven… I know my students share some of his struggles but not nearly to this extent.

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  4. Jackie, I agree. Race as constructed is a ongoing trope throughout the his letter. On your amazing blog http://www.theseaisfull.com :), you mentioned a quote “In this way Racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature…” and also school not being a site of liberation for students. Can you talk more about that?

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    • I agree with Coates that race is a social construct, something that was created by people in order to put people in their places. Why not break White people down into groups such as Irish-American etc? Well, I believe that all Whites being labeled as White, regardless to their backgrounds, makes them the majority and powerful and it leaves everybody else broken up into powerless groups. Why can’t we all be Americans PERIOD? Not sure if that is possible, but I wonder if that is something we can strive towards.

      Everyday, I try and make sure that my students of color see themselves in whatever we are discussing, and I think that can be a start to liberating students. EVERYBODY’S story must be told, because they are important.

      Lemar, do you think that this is a book you would use in your classroom?

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  5. I teach 4th graders so they may be naive to their surroundings. However, I know they are being bullied by others. They also don’t value education like they should. I try my best to instill this in them. We have to use a basal in reading. If I had my choice of books for them to read I would definitely look for more diverse nonfiction reading material.

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  6. Coates talks about what it was like for him to not only grow up in the streets but also what it was like going to school. Among other things he says “Algebra, Biology, and English were not subjects so much as opportunities to better discipline the body…” He goes on to say, “I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance. I love a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them” (25-6).

    This can cut deep, for students not to trust or believe their teachers. I often say that part of my education philosophy is for students to run to rather than away from school. Time should completely evade students when they’re deeply engaged, losing track of time, and thus they won’t begin to pack 5 min before the bell.

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    • Sherry, certainly. I read it like an Art of War guide on how to live in this society. He tells his son something to the effect “You are not far removed from Trayvon Martin.” And that case hit me so hard as an adult. But imagine experiencing that trial as a youngster, you know like his son. And I think that may be why it hit me so hard – because of the youthfulness of Trayvon. Trayvon was about the same age as my brother.

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  7. Lemar, I would like to quote a presenter at the NCTE conference this past week in Minneapolis.

    “We don’t want to lecture to them [students]. Use informational texts so they “discover” various points of view.”

    I believe we can use the curricula to embolden our students with sensitive topics by simply stating the truth. For example, an excerpt from Coates’ deeply personal letter to his son could be juxtaposed with the actual news article/report of the death/murder of his friend Prince Jones.

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  8. Jacqueline and Lemar, I know of people that are biracial and look white. Although they don’t deny being black, they definitely use looking white to their advantage. It’s amazing how skin color, the spelling of your name, or the texture of your hair can play an important role in job opportunities. We need to teach our kids their worth as well as how to handle situations like this. Encourage them to be entrepreneurs….

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    • Sherry, this is Jalissa – the other cofounder of YSS. I currently teach Journeys to Careers and when polled, my eighth graders do express an interest in entrepreneurship. Especially for those whose parents or family members had their own small businesses.

      I believe half the battle is the limited exposure to financial and business wisdom. An article from “Black Enterprise” or “Forbes” or “Wall Street Journal.”

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    • I am learning for myself, and I try and model it for my students: I am who I am, my hair is my hair, and my story is my story. I will not stop being me to get a job or to make others comfortable. Any job or person who can not accept all of me is not for me…

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  9. Clearly, educators do not have to “make up” the events taking place around the world to introduce or reinforce concepts such as police brutality which is highlighted daily and especially in “Between the World and Me” by Coates.

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  10. It’s not enforced at home… They are socially promoted and they are at a high frustration level once they get to the higher grades … Some of them are there just because they have to be there.

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  11. Jackie, I think this text should definitely be taught in high schools, and I would love for teachers who have taught this text in their classes to share their experiences. Another text I think should be taught in high school classes is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I’m teaching that text now in my Upward Bound class. Teaching Tolerance offers great lesson plans at http://www.tolerance.org/publication/teaching-new-jim-crow. As of now the student are really engaged.

    As far as everyone’s stories being told, you made me think of what we discussed this summer, Chimamanda Adichie’s The Danger of the Single Story, https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

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  12. Great discussion educators. The amazing thing about this virtual thing is that the conversation never has to end, so we can discuss away. However, I look forward to the next one. The next text is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon. It’s short and engaging and will add to this conversation. Invite other educators to join!!! #WeRead

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  13. This was a great read. I went to Coppin State which is 30 minutes from Howard. His description of the Mecca and all the adventures including Homecoming put me right back into the late 80’s early 90’s. Howard University Homecoming use to be the event that jammed the streets, where rappers had to get cred before blowing up and where entertainers mingled with students and visitors. It also provided a safe haven where out black bodies could be safe if only for a weekend!

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