Monday, October 10, 2005
I had my second session with the fledgling [The School] debate squad today. It was frustrating. Half the class fell asleep. And I couldn't for the life if me get the other half to stay focused.
The goal was to start bringing some substance into the process. I wanted the students to begin to understand the structure of a debate round. And I wanted to get them to start making generally coherent arguments with at least a minimum of supporting evidence.
Failure on both counts. The kids kept going off on tangents, and they visibly recoiled from written materials, and from the merest suggestions of structure.
The worst thing was that I could tell that a number of these kids are unusually bright. You can see it in their eyes when ideas register. You can hear it, too, when they begin to say something brilliant, and with passion. But it's like they're possessed by some sort of demon or afflicted with some sort of disease, and their natural brilliance isn't allowed to take over, it's shoved into the background, overshadowed by a spirit hell-bent on leading their bodies toward a life of obscurity. Sounds harsh, I know, but I've been hanging around a black Pentecostal church lately, and they talk a lot about the Devil. And I've been reading Cornel West's poignant writing about black nihilism. These things are coloring my interpretations.
After class concluded I was told that these kids are in the lowest-level track of the alternative school. And then I learned from a teacher friend that Monday's are always the worst day; kids are less eager to cooperate on the first day of the week. So it seems my challenge is formidible. The teacher I'm working with still feels optimistic, though. So we'll try again next Monday.
When I got to Central High later this afternoon, and heard kids reading speedily through heady debate cases, I felt as though I'd entered a prep school. If I'd gone to an actual prep school, I might well have considered mounting a suicidal coupe against the whole of American society.
Driving home tonight I heard a report on NPR about Liberia. What a wretched mess. Monrovia, the capital, a whole city with no electricity or running water. Of course, their history is mired in American racism and greedy Cold-War hegemony. All around the world people are in misery. Ours here is relatively nice, it seems.
I'm tired and ashamed of my nice car. If I could trade it in for justice, I would.
Posted by Joe Miller at 4:27 PM