Middle school students assigned books about and by People of Color

Received from a teacher by a parent of a local 7th grader:

We will be reading March together as a class for our next unit and additionally students will be working cooperatively in book clubs for books that are about and by People of Color.

I asked “So they can pick any book written by or describing a Virginia Democrat?”

It seems that the answer is “no.” The letter continues with

Today in class the students had the opportunity to preview the book club books and rank their top choices.

So students can’t stray from the approved list and pick the autobiography of Clarence Thomas, for example, or Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell:

Government spending is often said to be beneficial to the economy, as the money disbursed is spent and re-spent, creating jobs, raising incomes, and generating tax revenues in the process. But usually if that same government money had remained in the hands of the taxpayers from whom it came, they too would have spent it, and it would still have been re-spent, creating jobs, raising incomes, and generating tax revenues in the process. This again is usually at best a zero-sum process, in so far as the transfer of money is concerned, and a negative-sum process in so far as high tax rates to finance government spending reduce incentives to do all the things necessary to generate economic activity and the prosperity resulting from it.

Poetry by Kanye West is presumably also excluded, though it might be interesting to hear a class discussion of “Gold Digger”:

Eighteen years, eighteen years
She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years [23 in Massachusetts]
I know somebody payin’ child support for one of his kids
His baby mama car and crib is bigger than his
You will see him on TV any given Sunday
Win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai
She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money
She went to the doctor, got lipo with your money
She walkin’ around lookin’ like Michael with your money
Shoulda got that insured, Geico for your money
If you ain’t no punk
Holla, “We want prenup! We want prenup!” (Yeah!)
It’s somethin’ that you need to have
‘Cause when she leave yo’ ass, she gon’ leave with half [maybe closer to 0% after subtracting litigation costs?]
Eighteen years, eighteen years
And on the 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his?!

The official list would also keep students from asking whether Chinese Nobelists such as Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan qualify as “of color” (of the wrong color?).

Personally I would love to see a student with the temerity to demand In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World, by Rachel Dolezal.

Readers: Does it help Writers of Color to put them in a February ghetto and tell students they can read books on white subjects by white authors the rest of the year?

Exciting Update: I got hold of the list! (Kanye West is not on it!).

22 thoughts on “Middle school students assigned books about and by People of Color

  1. You forgot “This Fight is Our Fight” by none other than the Senator representing your proud state, the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Eliz Warren — proud to be a Native American since at least 1986, when she filled out her Texas bar card. Youngsters reading this book can dream about walking in her footsteps, first by becoming a law professor at the University of Texas and then Harvard, then a US Senator and now a candidate for the presidency — thus overcoming the prejudices against her people and now a great role model for all Native Americans.

  2. So students can’t stray from the approved list and pick the autobiography of Clarence Thomas, for example, or Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell

    How can you be sure? Have you seen the list?

    • Vince, you need to hang out around a school sometime. Teachers don’t assign racially restricted reading lists because they want all viewpoints to be covered. Teachers have an agenda and kids get a very restricted view of American history. Phil, and myself, have kids, and believe me, this is all you get. Jim Crow was ascendant before 1970, and Nazis were bad. Lyndon Johnson? Hubert Humprhey? Earl Warren? Never heard of them. Talk to some high school kids. Basically you get that Rosa Parks wouldn’t get a a bus and MLK backed her up. That’s it.

    • Teachers have an agenda and kids get a very restricted view of American history.

      There’s only so much time available for instruction, so there would have to be limits to what’s covered. I doubt that every middle school history teacher has an “agenda”, unless you think that every person would have an agenda if they were assigned to teach history to kids. In public schools the restrictions and agenda would be largely by the bureaucrats in the state capitols who specify the syllabus and choose the textbooks. Kids these days are also forced to take a lot standardized tests, to teachers want to make that their pupils can pass those tests.

      I imagine that there might not be much coverage of the whole postwar period in the first place. It sounds unlikely that Jim Crow would be covered without mentioning the 1954 Brown decision and thus the Warren court.

      Also, there is a big problem if the focus is on famous names like Rosa Parks and MLK. Popular movements like the civil rights movement require large numbers of people to get involved marching and protesting and so forth. Teaching only about the leaders could make the kids think that they need to wait for leaders to ride in on white horses to improve society.

    • Vince, the “teachers have an agenda” because those bureaucrats gave them the agenda. The teacher’s *personal* agenda is “don’t get fired” which means teaching the agenda their boss gave them.

    • Vince: I contacted my friend who asked an actual seventh grader in this class. Students were restricted in their choice and had to pick from a list provided by the teacher. There are, after all, some non-virtuous People of Color (see

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/08/16/trump-approval-rating-african-americans-rasmussen-poll/1013212002/

      and

      https://www.newsweek.com/what-donald-trumps-approval-rating-latino-hispanic-voters-popularity-support-1300180

      ) and some of them may have written books!

    • Yes, the Brown decision is mentioned but how many students learn that it was a unanimous decision by an all-white court? I live 3 miles from Earl Warren Junior High School in California and I used to ask my kid’s friends who Earl Warren was. None of them knew. I teach at a community college in California with a plurality of Hispanic American students. A majority of my students get 2-5K a year in Pell grants. None of them know who Claiborne Pell, another white guy, was. I know this because I ask them this question every semester. African-American civil rights figures are personalized and referred to by name. White people responsible for consequential and important civil rights acts are not described, only the acts are described: “the Warren Court”, “the 1964 Civil Rights Act”, and so on.

    • Probably very few Americans of any background have ever heard of Claiborne Pell. You’ve probably never heard of John Pastore, who served with Pell as a senator from Rhode Island. It doesn’t matter much. If you think that the kids are learning too much about non-white people, then presumably they’ve learned about Thurgood Marshall, the first black supreme court justice, who was nominated in 1967. If they know that fact, they would have to know that the Supreme Court was all white when Brown was decided.

  3. With the way the future of American advancement is heading, it is only rational for single young males who are “privileged” (White, Asian, East Indian etc.) to hit on Black or Native American girls exclusively. This is a big challenge, as even though some of them are smokin’ hot, most of these girls come with poor family values and a cultural framework that is not conducive to bettering their lot in life because of reasons including but not limited to, The Man.

    Or you might hit the jackpot and marry Malia Obama or Sowell’s granddaughter and create super-accomplished X-Men/ Nobel Prize winners.

  4. It sounds pretty fascist to me:

    “We will be reading March together as a class for our next unit and additionally students will be working cooperatively in book clubs for books that are about and by People of Color.”

    WE WILL BE READING MARCH TOGETHER! Have a nice time.

  5. What if they wanted to read anything by Rosemary Mahoney instead? Because Whoredom in Kimmage and The Early Arrival of Dreams are pretty good and truly thoughtful books and I think they should be on the List. People can do the cut and paste to find them. They’re not perfect but I really enjoyed The Early Arrival of Dreams.

  6. Kanye’s advice wasn’t very helpful – can’t sign away child support with a prenup. She still got you for 18 years. So it’s probably better left off the list.

    • Sam: 21 years in New York and 23 in Massachusetts! You’re right on the larger issue that the song conflates family court profits with marriage per se. Most family court litigation is between people who were never married and the largest profits are available from sex outside of a marriage (e.g., with an already-married high-income person).

    • I have to say that the list seems weak on LGBTQIA characters. Why couldn’t the soccer star, for example, also be transgender? Why couldn’t the Brown Girl Dreaming have two women for grandparents instead of a mixed-gender couple? https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/books/review/jason-reynolds-ghost.html says that “the story of the day he learned how fast he can run, fleeing his apartment with his mother as his father shot at them.” so there is at least some implicit criticism of the cisgender heterosexual male lifestyle (leads to abuse and shooting at one’s own children), but why isn’t there at least a supporting character who is LGBTQIA?

      Some folks might look at this list as a way to raise awareness of victimhood based on skin color. But it could also be seen as a way to reinforce cisgender-normative and heteronormative stereotypes.

    • Your profession of concern for LGBTQIA people is clearly insincere. So you must have some other objection to these kids reading single book written by a black person this year. Yet you state your objection specifically. It doesn’t look good.

    • “Your profession of concern for LGBTQIA people is clearly insincere.”

      I am sorry that you are prejudiced against Allies, Vince. Perhaps https://www.hrc.org/blog/how-to-be-an-lgbt-ally

      (Separately, I have chosen to live in a suburb filled with folks who are married with children. If that is not an expression of support for the A (“asexual”) in LGBTQIA, I don’t know what would be.)

    • Gee, that’s an interesting point about the diversity of people celebrated in Confederate monuments. From what I recall, quite a few black slaves were put to work near the front lines, assisting the confederate army. Yet there are no statues commemorating their efforts.

  7. @Vince,

    Yes, there were blacks fighting on both sides during the Civil War, either by force or on their own. In fact, there were a whole regiment made of blacks. But that’s not my point. Unless those Confederates were evil like Hitler was, removing their statues and flags and attempting to erase them from history is very wrong. Those Confederate men and women are no worse than Christopher Columbus or George Washington (the examples that I gave above) in the way the effected the lives of others in thousand and millions.

    For example, during the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln did not go to war with the south to free the slaves, he started the war because the south wanted to secede [1] — he offered the south to keep their slaves if they will stay in the Union. Doesn’t this make Lincoln a bad person as such we should demand his statues be removed too?

    [1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths-about-why-the-south-seceded/2011/01/03/ABHr6jD_story.html?utm_term=.c7889a80bbdd

    • That’s an interesting position, that it’s fine to commemorate a person as long as he’s not as bad as Hitler. So you’d have no objection to a city government erecting a statue of Charles Manson.

      Anyway, you’re missing the point. I don’t think that we should evaluate the good or evil of every thing that a historical figure has done as if we’re all Saint Peter. The point is that these statues were put up specifically to honor the work that these generals and politicians did to preserve slavery. Other good and bad things that they may have done during their lifetime weren’t relevant. In addition to that, there was a big increase in the building of statues and naming of schools and other public buildings after Confederate officers in the 1950s and 1960s. The confederate flag was added to the state flag of Georgia in 1956. Clearly this was part of the campaign to defend segregation, assert white supremacy, etc. Renaming buildings and taking down statues and so forth is just a way for a community or a state to indicate that it no longer supports such sentiments.

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