Teaching Against the Odds
Selena was a mature, robust, medium-height, dark-skinned girl, who sat near the back of the room in my eleventh-grade English class at a large, inner-city, senior high school in the Deep South. She was often inattentive and lazy, for she came to class without homework assign ments, books, and writing paper. Usually, she had to borrow a pencil. Around school, she had the reputation of antagonizing both male and female students. Here I was, in my second year as a teacher in the pub lic school system in South Carolina, trying desperately to impress both my colleagues and my principal that I was a very capable English teacher. The setting was familiar to me: an all-black high school with an all-black faculty, a large, industrial upstate city, a large and conserv ative black community, a middle-and upper-class white community that was separated from all of the components of the city, including the black neighborhoods. My challenge, therefore, was very clear to me: to teach students like Selena how to read, write, talk, think, and listen with critical skills. To meet my challenge, I also had to guide them gingerly through the mine field of racism, pointing out the familiar hidden mines of hate and destruction. I decided to use litera ture as my detector.