Trenton Superintendent Still in TrentonApril 24, 2014
New WHYY post: New Camden Charter Schools Provoke Specious AllegationsApril 25, 2014
Today’s New York Times features an article that describes how students are exposed to less of the writing of James Baldwin than in the past. While Baldwin scholar Rich Blint attributes this “fade” to Baldwin’s “incendiary” and “inflammatory” poetry and prose, other educators quoted in the article blame the Common Core.
How did we get to the point that the Common Core State Standards, which includes a non-exclusive appendix of texts meant as a suggested reading list for teachers, is blamed for James Baldwin’s demise in high school classrooms? What’s next? Common Core is responsible for global warming?
“On one hand, he’s on a U.S. postage stamp; on the other hand, he’s not in the Common Core,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. “A lot of public high school students will not have heard of him, and that’s a tragedy. The burden of protecting James Baldwin’s hugely important legacy is on teachers of English.”
The Common Core appendix is not a canon of great American literature. It’s a list that teachers can use or not use, and his exclusion from the suggested texts has nothing to do with racism or oversight and a lot to do with the plethora of great African-American literature that as emerged since the 1950’s and ’60’s.
We’re also more squeamish than we used to be. Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” isn’t listed in the appendix either, probably because schools are afraid of the “n” word (see? I can’t even write it) and the threat of litigation or bad press. And Baldwin, great as he was, was certainly inflammatory. Here’s a section from his famous 1967 essay in the New York Times called “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White””
Of course, it is true, and I am not so naÔve as not to know it, that many Jews despise Negroes, even as their Aryan brothers do. (There are also Jews who despise Jews, even as their Aryan brothers do.) It is true that many Jews use, shamelessly, the slaughter of the 6,000,000 by the Third Reich as proof that they cannot be bigots–or in the hope of not being held responsible for their bigotry. It is galling to be told by a Jew whom you know to be exploiting you that he cannot possibly be doing what you know he is doing because he is a Jew. It is bitter to watch the Jewish storekeeper locking up his store for the night, and going home. Going, with your money in his pocket, to a clean neighborhood, miles from you, which you will not be allowed to enter. Nor can it help the relationship between most Negroes and most Jews when part of this money is donated to civil rights. In the light of what is now known as the white backlash, this money can be looked on as conscience money merely, as money given to keep the Negro happy in his place, and out of white neighborhoods.
Powerful and brilliant stuff. Sure, it’s not in the Common Core appendix, but available to any teacher who wants to use it, as well as the great “Go Tell it on The Mountain,” and “Notes of a Native Son” or, for that matter, “Huck Finn.”