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Saturday, January 24, 2009


It's the first week of the semester at University of the Arts, which is why I haven't gotten around to blogging. I have about three different projects in the works (including a podcast interview of Quakers who visited India in the fall which will hopefully be posted next week), so it was a bit of a transition to find some shoes that weren't sneakers and dig out the train schedule to make the trek downtown. This semester I am teaching two classes back-to-back, Race at the End of the Twentieth Century and The Age of Apartheid. I've taught the South Africa class three times before and feel pretty confident about the material. The race class was very challenging when I premiered it last spring, but it's hard to know how much of the challenge was the fact that it was a new class and how much was the nature of the subject. So I've been bracing myself for the beginning of the semester a bit, knowing that it could be the thing that pushes my juggling act from a nice steady juggle into the frantic act of a woman with too many balls in the air.

The good news is that it felt great to be back in the classroom. It didn’t hurt that the first day of class was inauguration day. My race class started at 10, so after taking attendance I wanted to show them something that would put this election in historical context. After looking at a few videos, I settled on a clip from the Eyes on the Prize series, episode 5, Mississippi 1964: Is This America? None of the students had ever heard of Medgar Evers, the civil rights advocate who was gunned down in front of his home for encouraging blacks to vote, or the bus loads of Northern college students who went to the South to register voters. The clip we watched included the disappearance of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the three young men whose murders were the basis for the (inaccurate) film Mississippi Burning. After watching the clip, one of the black students said, “I’m from the South, and I didn’t know anything about this.” After explaining that Barack Obama’s election would not have been possible without the campaign for voting rights forty-four years ago, we put on’s live broadcast. I could feel the excitement of the crowd on the big screen.

Aside from the long-awaited shift in our foreign policy, the thing I’m feeling good about is the level of interest and enthusiasm among the students for the subjects I’m teaching. As we did a more in depth round of introductions on Friday, many students and in both classes mentioned that they realized there were things they didn’t learn in high school, whether about the Civil Rights Movement or about African history, and they were hungry for this information, particularly but not only the black students. It was a validation of my teaching that erased the ambivalence I was feeling about giving up my writing time. At the end of the Apartheid class on Friday, where we talked about human origins, one young black woman said to me on her way out the door, “I’ve never, ever in my whole life, in all my years of school, heard a teacher say, ‘We all came from Africa originally.’ Thank you. That made my day.”

And she made mine.


Blogger Philip Jones said...

Wait a minute! I don't read your blog to make myself cry. Why did you do that to me?

3:57 PM  
Blogger one raised eyebrow said...

Eileen, this is beautiful. Isn't it amazing how one comment from a student can make (or break) your day?!

BTW, if you get to the place where you become the frantic woman with too many balls in the air, we can join together and take that show on the road!

thanks for the blogroll!

8:30 AM  

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