Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Spotted: Text-to-World Connection

Some of my students are reading Black and White, a young adult novel by Paul Volponi. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) In this novel, two friends, Marcus and Eddie, are seniors in high school. Marcus is black and Eddie is white. Both play for a contender basketball squad and are being courted by recruiters for top basketball schools. When Marcus and Eddie are struggling to put together money for senior expenses, they find Eddie's grandfather's gun and decide to mug people for money. They don't plan for anyone to get hurt, but when someone does, Marcus and Eddie are both facing the law. Marcus finds himself cooling his heels on Riker's Island and then facing a prison sentence, dashing his basketball dreams. However, Eddie is bailed out by his middle-class family, who hires an expensive lawyer to defend Eddie and keep him out of prison. Loyal to a fault, Marcus refuses to name Eddie as his partner in the stickups.

As my students finish reading this book, I want to share with them this article from the Times, suggesting that in the city as well as around the country, young black males find themselves suspended from school far more frequently than other students. I would say this is also the case at my school (though the stats may be slanted here due to what seems to be an overabundance of females with serious anger issues and penchants for settling their scores via weave-tearing and face-scratching). But I find it hard to believe that different, though not less serious, crimes are not happening at schools that are in wealthier neighborhoods and are predominantly white. What I suspect is that parents of young black men find it harder to raise, and sustain, a successful fight against these suspensions. Parents with more time and money can likely more successfully fight, or even suppress, charges against their progeny.

Since we English teachers love to talk about text-to-world connections, I'm planning to mine this one, but it's hard to say I'm excited about. I wonder how many real-world Marcuses and Eddies are out there--kids who do the same crime, but do not, by any stretch of the imagination, do the same time. And don't mistake my post for a get-soft-on-school-crime kind of thing, either--I strongly support serious consequences for criminal and chronically disruptive behavior in school. But what I don't support is pretending that one type of kid is a "problem" kid more than any other.
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