Monday, March 22, 2010
American History X - a Success
Right or wrong, there are still places and people who look to the printed word - for its teachings of the past, for its stimulus of important discussions, as a source and impetus for thought and consideration.
American History X
“class, we are going to watch a movie together; this movie happens to be very violent and graphic, it’s got a bit of nudity and sexual content, but that is not what it’s about. It is about something that you do not know a lot about since your experience of America has been mostly confined to post-Giuliani liberal progressive, almost suburban, New York. There was a time when you could not walk down certain streets if you were of a certain color, and after a particular hour your chances of being robbed, kidnapped, raped, beaten up or murdered increased exponentially by every passing minute. The fact that this is not longer the case is good, however it has put a warming and diffusing filter on the reality of American race relations in the rest of the country.”
“Lincoln may have “freed” the slaves 140 years ago, but Blacks were not truly free and equal citizens until well into the 1960’s. This transitional period of 100 years has created an atmosphere of distrust, hatred, violence, inequality and prejudice; elsewhere in the world those hundred years gave birth to a number of leaders who made Nationalism a government supported and executed concept. These leaders, particularly Hitler, I hope you remember reading about him with your History teacher, right? Please say yes.”
“yes Mr. T”
“praise the lord! So this particular leader has spawned a movement across the world; white supremacy got itself an idol. You may have heard of skinheads, neo-Nazi’s, the KKK… these are all people who don’t think you have any business being here – you are a drag on our society, you are the cause of your own poverty, you bring disease, unemployment and violence, you pollute the pristine wombs of white women and you stand in the way of the progression of the white race. Did you know that about yourselves? This movie certainly represents the extreme manifestation of these sentiments, certainly not all “white supremacists” or racist would ever act to such a degree or even say such things as you will hear here, but they do represent a real and living sentiment shared by millions in this country, and the second you step out of New York, whether for college or work, you will discover just how real it is, and it is very possible someone may call you a nigger, not hire you, exclude you from a club or try to beat the crap out of you.”
This was the introduction I gave to the movie. We then proceeded to watch as the America flag was associated with exclusion, racism and inequality, as well as justification for all these things including murder. We saw the swastika; we heard kike, nigger, spic…; we saw everyone but the "poor victimized lower-class uneducated protestant scared" person accused of all things wrong with this country – we saw this done in very convincing Rhetoric.
What followed was an amazing discussion, filled with analysis and discovery, synthesis and problem solving. Brains were working, engaged, interested, scared, confused… My students (who are, for those who don't know, are all Black and/or are immigrants) own hatreds and prejudices were, not directly, brought to light; there was recognition and realization. What is important is that in light of all this there was no surrender to the difficulty of a situation, nor complaints about the need to engage a greater than unusual amount of their brains in order to really understand what is going on, as well as how and why the film was shot in that particular style.
After many failures and false starts we, as a class, found success. We had to employ a familiar medium, though not ADD inspiring as other movies, but a moving picture non-the-less. The class was fantastic, it was everything I envisioned an English class should be like… but it was not stimulated by reading a book, and that deflates me to no end.
Am I wrong? Are we coming to the end of the printed word, its importance, its use as a source for RELIABLE information? Can I not engage them sans violence, sexuality and “strong” language? Do the classics really no longer hold any of the valuable lessons they did in the past? Can Dickens tell us nothing? Nor Tolstoy nor Hemingway nor Byron nor Wilde nor Fitzgerald nor Shakespeare?
I hope you guys have some answers!
Is there a book with which you, other educators, have found success in the aforementioned degree? Even if you are not a teacher, is there a book you would recommend? Something that has meaning, something that can teach us about life… something that can stimulate good discussion and engagement.
I can’t wait for your ideas!!
Thanks for checking in!