Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chess & GRIT in East St. Louis

Thanks to requests and efforts made by our colleague Danice Brown and thanks to generous donations by the good folks at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, we have been successfully hosting a series of game and strategy activities in our after school GRIT program at the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter High School.

In recent years, researchers have concentrated on "grit" or qualities like persistence and tenaciousness as measures of the extents to which students, for example, succeed. Professor Victoria Scott led a group of us in developing a program that would involve high school students in activities that relate to grit and skill-building. We are now in our second year of the GRIT program.

On Thursday, October16, we hosted the second in our series of game and strategy activities, focusing primarily on chess.

Notebook on the GRIT program

Outliers & Cultural Legacies - Chapter 6

[Outliers Reading Group]

In chapter 6 of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell highlights cultural legacies. He opens with disturbing descriptions of how longstanding cultural patterns and beliefs influenced violent conflicts among generations of families in Kentucky during the 19th century.

The compelling research findings concerning long-term and deeply held values led Gladwell to the conclusion that cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them. He goes on to note the possibilities of “taking cultural legacies seriously” in order to learn “why people succeed and how to make people better.”

It’s worth noting that highlighting cultural legacies can easily give way to problematic racial and gendered generalizations—generalizations we have necessarily been inclined to critique or avoid.

How did his narratives or claims alter or confirm your views about the significance of cultural legacies?

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Chapter 12 “Nine Nights of Dance”

[Behind the Beautiful Forevers]

In chapter 12 “Nine Nights of Dance” of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Annawadians prepare for Navratri, a yearly festival of dancing where girls considered themselves equals to the boys. During preparation, Meena and Manju spend a great deal of time discussing, marriage, family life, and the death of Fatima the One Leg.

Boo writes “The day before Asha’s Navratri began, the maidan underwent a fury of beautification. Abdul and his garbage piles were banished, and women swept and swept. A teenaged boy shimmied up the flagpole to anchor the strings of lights, while other boys climbed onto hut roofs to affix the ends of the strings to corrugated eaves” (309).

What did you find most notable about the author’s discussion of gender inequality in the chapter? Why? Provide page citation please.

--Kacee Aldridge  

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Chapter 13 “Something Shining”

[Behind the Beautiful Forevers]

In chapter 13 “Something Shining” of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the effects of the American recession begin to reach India where the impacts are detrimental to the garbage collectors, causing Sunil to become a garbage thief. Terrorists start attacking area hotels which only adds to the despair and gloom of Annawadi.

Boo notes “A city in which terrorists killed foreign tourists in hotels was not a place other foreign tourists would want to spend their winter holidays. There would not be a peak season in Annawadi this winter. The airport would be quiet, the hotels empty. When midnight came on January 1, there would be few partiers at the Intercontinental shouting ‘Happy New Year.’”

What did you find most interesting about Annawadians perceptions of the economic downturn?

--Kacee Aldridge  

The Big Smoke: "Alias"

[The Big Smoke reading group]  

In "Alias" from Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke, we encounter a list of the many names that Johnson has been called. Some of the terms are quite derogatory.

Of the names, nicknames, and phrasings that appeared in the poem, which one was most notable to you? Why?

The Big Smoke: “Color Line”

[The Big Smoke reading group]  
In "Color Line" from Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke, Jack Johnson explains that he has no plans to give Sam Langford, another black boxer, an opportunity to fight him. According to Johnson, "there is no money colored  / fighters mixing it up." Thus, Johnson has no incentive to compete again Langford, whom Johnson had apparently easily defeated in the past.

Usually discussions about the "color line" concentrate on the separation between black people and white people. Ironically in this poem though, Matejka addresses how "business" can lead to distance between a black boxer and another black boxer.

No doubt, people have their opinions about Johnson based on this poem. But let's consider something different. Based on this poem, what's one thought you had about the larger implications of the "color line" or prominent racial boundaries?    

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gina Washington, Leadership, Inspiration & Collegiate Black Women

Tuesday, October 7,Gina Washington, director of the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter High School, met with 22 first-year students (all black women) from SIUE. Washington discussed leadership and the rewards of pursuing a career as an educator.

Washington responded to a range of questions and spent considerable time talking with the students. She recalled her journeys from college student to bank teller to teacher to principal to director of the charter school. She also shared her experiences working with her staff, serving the needs of students, interacting with parents, and attending meetings with officials in East St. Louis and SIUE administrators (all those commitments often in a single day).

Washington is hip and energetic, students noted. She gave them a view of a high school educator that was not as common. In fact, her visit prompted some of the young women to begin considering fields of education for potential career options.  

A series of touching moments occurred after the talk. One by one, students approached Washington to ask her questions and seek advice about their own journeys. Washington gave the young women undivided attention and responded to their many queries.

First-year student Kali Pray speaks with Gina Washington.

Lauryn Fox. a first-year student, had three words to describe Washington: "Lovely. Intelligent. Inspiring." She went on to say, "I love seeing a strong black woman make it."

Nicola Paulette, a third-year student  who graduated from the Charter High School, noted what it meant to have Washington in her life. Paulette said that she was really inspired "seeing a black woman with an education who is using it for a good purpose." And because Washington "talks to me as if I could be in her position," said Paulette, she has begun envisioning herself working in the field of education.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Replacing "Slaves" with "Enslaved"

By Jeremiah Carter

Last weekend, I went to Cincinnati, OH, with a large group of SIUE students to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. As if it weren’t enough to see where the Ohio R. separated Ohio (a free state—by only one vote) and Kentucky (a slave state), the Freedom Center offered a useful new way for me to discuss black people living in America prior to Emancipation. One of the museum guides, Christopher Miller, prompted me to use "enslaved" instead of simply "slave" when discussing people who lived in bondage.

While the spelling and syntactic differences in the words are subtle, their difference in implications are important. When we think of "slaves," most of us think of those with no will of their own; we probably imagine beaten laborers and individuals treated in some cases worse than animals—the visualizations are endless. However if we were to reconsider these individuals as “enslaved;" we acknowledge that slavery is an unnatural condition imposed on individuals.

By replacing “slave” with “enslaved” we subvert 19th century propaganda that advanced the idea that black people were naturally subservient, animalistic, and predestined to be tamed and to serve (some of which continues to be filtered into popular culture today). “Slave” also implies no past, future, hope of escape, or any other possible reality for enslaved individuals. “Enslaved,” by contrast, suggests that these were people who had pasts, futures, and the abilities to live autonomously, had the condition of slavery not be forced upon them.

No, we’re not playing the blame game—not yet anyway--, but isn’t it more accurate to suggest that these people were forced into an unnatural condition instead of identifying them as only objects?