During the week of November 1st I had one of those magical moments when academic content, and field work came together as a complete learning moment for me. At my field placement, which is a college access program at a predominantly black high school, a fight broke out between students at the start of our mentoring session. This fight came into my week a day after closing a unit in my black sociological perspective class taught by Professor Robert Washington. The unit consisted of lectures with excerpts from Elijah Anderson’s “The Code of the Street.” We discussed the way of life for young black males growing up in the inner city, and the fact that these young men often live by different set of rules than mainstream society.
To offer some context we learned about the formation of the ghetto as it stands today as a result of integration, white flight , and black unemployment rates following the fall of the American industries. In addition – the absence of fathers in the inner city has resulted in a breakdown in community life affecting most of all the absence of sports teams and community gatherings. This absence has left families privatized and more closely tied to their homes, leaving the open streets to those of non traditional employment. The absence of families of the street and the lack neighborly accountability and public presence is described in sociology as a breakdown of social controls and is the reason for police presence in the inner city.
For many young black males growing up in the inner city - especially those growing up in female headed households, there is a feeling of insecurity fostered by race, and class and a feeling that society does not care about them- a feeling that they have been left behind. This insecurity is the fuel for various codes of the street. For one, conflict is inevitable and fighting whether one wins or loses is crucial to one’s self respect and the respect they receive from their peer groups. For this reason, when the fight broke out on friday, I felt literate in the event and reasoning of these boys. A police presence was at the school within moments and made me think about social controls within the school, and how susceptible the school was the code of the streets. Knowing about the desire young black males have for respect from each other, how deeply fragile the black male self esteem is, and knowing the potential a community can have to lesson police presence inspired my lesson plan, designed with my mentorship group in mind.
In my mentor group I have three fun, caring, and charismatic black males ages 17 and 18 who have inspired me to create this lesson with a class size of black teenaged males in mind. Additionally, during my college access mentoring I find that my students are often academically unprepared for the college application process and insecure about themselves and their futures. I have designed my three week lesson plan with both academic, and personal improvement in mind.
Week 1, Lesson - Objective: Self Esteem Boost
“Pessimism vs Optimism”
1:20-1:35 pm (15 mins): Open with a review of vocabulary words and questions in an open dialogue style. “what does optimism mean? What is pessimism? What does it mean for someone to have positive attributes? What is self esteem?
1:35- 2:05pm (30 mins): Students get into groups, each group is given different literary examples (lyrics, poems, quotes) expressing the black male experience, with themes of blackness, black maleness, or both. The texts will be:
Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni (Poem)
“...I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad
I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the nile
I am a beautiful woman…”
The Truth- India Arie (Song)
I love the way he speaks
I love the way he thinks
I love the way he treats his mama
I love that gap in between his teeth
I love him in every way that a woman can love a man
from personal to universal but most of all its unconditional
-you know what I'm talking about-[spoken]
Thats the way I feel
-and I always will-[spoken]
There ain't no substitute for the truth
either it is or isnt
cause he is the truth
you see the truth it, needs no proof
either it is or it isnt
Cause he is the truth
Now you know the truth by the way it feels
and if I am a reflection of him then I must be fly
cause he is yes he is
I wonder does he know [echoes]
Frantz Fanon- “Black Skin White Masks”
“As I begin to recognise that the Negro is the symbol of sin, I catch myself hating the Negro. But then I recognise that I am a Negro. There are two ways out of this conflict. Either I ask others to pay no attention to my skin, or else I want them to be aware of it. I try then to find value for what is bad--since I have unthinkingly conceded that the black man is the colour of evil. In order to terminate this neurotic situation, in which I am compelled to choose an unhealthy, conflictual solution, fed on fantasies, hostile, inhuman in short, I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me, to reject the two terms that are equally unacceptable, and through one human being, to reach out for the universal.
When the Negro dives--in other words, goes under--something remarkable occurs.”
And several from Richard Wright:
“Violence is a personal necessity for the oppressed...It is not a strategy consciously devised. It is the deep, instinctive expression of a human being denied individuality.”
“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.”
“I was not leaving the south to forget the south, but so that some day I might understand it”
Upon reading these quotes and excerpts in small groups students must identify what is positive about these lyrics, what they see about the portrayal of black men and how they see the author's portraying themselves. They will then be required to identify 5 different grammatical conventions in the various texts.
2:05- 2:50 pm (45 mins): “I Am a Man”
Students will be encouraged to improve analytical and grammatical skills by analyzing the above works and the grammar and incorporating what they noticed in the content as well as the grammatical tools, in their own writing. For the last portion of the sessions the students will partner up for a biography project. Students will interview each other and write biographies of each other incorporating the themes they identified in the above works.
The intention of this assignment (other than practicing reading, writing, and comprehension) is to
form and alternative way of getting respect from peer groups. Writing the biography allows for storytelling and bring legitimacy to traditional and nontraditional accomplishments. Students will take the biographies home as a reminded that they have been heard, they are cared for and they are important, and most of all that PEER saw this, not a parent or a teacher- supporting the power of the peer’s perception. The motive of this lesson draws from the outcome of the work Marinell describes in “Voices Inside Schools”. Lawrence students were able to control the lens through which their neighborhood was seen, and I hope to provide a platform for students to have the same level of autonomy in the classroom with this project.
Week 2, Lesson 2: Objective: Positive Peer Perception
1:20- 1:30 (10 mins) Students will reflect on their experience with the biography project.
1:30- 2:45 (1hr 15 mins)
Students will be given craft materials, newspapers, and magazines, and will pick a classmate's name out of a hat, then spend that class period creating an artistic representation of that student.
Students carry many insecurities, and are often among the many people who do not hear how important they are- or how they are perceived enough. Students care a lot about what peers think which causes them to do deviant things in the name of acceptance. In addition, hyper masculinity and the embarrassment of being labeled as gay stops students from being truthful about the way they feel about each other. This activity is designed to have students reveal the most positive things they see about each other in a way that is fraternal, and artistic which can also expose students to an interest and outlet they may not have known they had. I would close the lesson with a reminder that the next week we would be doing volunteer work.
Week 3, Lesson 3- Objective: Accountability through Community “Something to be Proud of”
1:20 - 1:50pm (30 mins) the first portion of our session will centered around ownership of actions and future planning. The reason for this is that many young men from the inner city struggle with imagining a future more than a day in advance, and that mindset makes college hard to imagine. In addition not imagining a future contributes to the way students may perceive consequences and ultimately may lead them to not think twice about their actions. To address this we will watch a scene from John Singleton's “Boyz n the Hood”- The gentrification scene.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2ECcFN8uqg) we will have a 15 min dialogue which will focus on why some characters struggle with imagining a future, how they situate themselves in the scene as college applicants, ownership, and community. I will also ask the students to be critical about their own similarities and differences to the neighborhood portrayed in the scene.
1:50- 2:45pm (55 mins) For the whole period students will have a choice of volunteering with the lower school engaging in reading and literacy with younger kids, or helping during the younger children’s lunch period, as a presence at the various lunch tables. The idea behind this is influenced by the influx of police patrol following the fall of blue collar black workers ultimately creating an absence of black fathers in the inner city. The idea is that the presence of these young black men being involved in the larger school community will strengthen the environment.
This partnership will be a form of service, and affect a younger group of students who will get attention from older students, and older students will get the benefit of the ultimate compliment- being looked up too. Additionally, for those who read, students will practice reading and comprehension by reading allowed and explaining content to students. At the end we would regroup and I would have students spend 10 minutes reflecting on their favorite aspects of the past three lessons. My hope is that these activities , and the student reflection would serve as inspiration for students to write about profound moments for their college essays. In addition Id hope to expose the students to multiple avenues of self expression, examples of people who respect themselves, and peers who respect them. In addition, I would hope for students to see their communities and behaviors more critically, especially in their newfound roles as role models. My lessons go on the assumptions that all student would be able to represent the best in each other, and it would be a true challenge if that were not true. However even if a conflict were to arise, there would not be one student whose experience was not welcomed or legitimized in the class. This work is innovative because it is largely experiential, and more teacher facilitated than taught. Although there are intentional academic goals, the students are the authors of each product of the lessons whether its writing, art, or a relationship. The most important part about my lesson is that it puts young black males at the center, and if the lesson ever derailed from that character building then it would be a failed lesson. The thoughtfulness that I have put into my lesson plan is drawn additionally from Marc Lamont Hill’s “Beats Rhymes and Classroom Life”. He allowed his students to be experts, but not without challenging their expertise which is exactly how my lesson goes about Identity with young black males.