So we read a crappy article in class about Death Valley and the students are supposed to figure out those lame things the standardized tests check for, like Main Idea and Author's Purpose and what kinds of Text Features are used. Nothing better than forcing 14-year-olds who read at a 4th grade level to look for an implied Main Idea in a passage about Death Valley.
To break the monotony I ask a volunteer to come up and find California on my world map. It takes an alarmingly long time to find a student who can do so. Then, just for kicks, I ask why it took Americans until 1849 to "discover" Death Valley.
Dead silence ensues. Then I ask who lived in California before white people arrived, and someone finally says "Native Americans." And then: "What's the difference Mr. G between Native Americans and African Americans?"
"Where do you think African Americans originally came from?" I ask. Nobody knows. Nobody fucking knows. What do they teach these kids in goddam social studies class? (I shouldn't be so quick to judge. I teach them Language Arts, and they read at a fourth grade level after all.)
Finally a timid young lady ventures "Africa."
"YES!" I shout. "Yes! African Americans came from Africa! WHY?" I demand. "How?"
Nobody knows. Finally a new girl--who transferred in yesterday--says "they came on ships. A bunch of white people--excuse me, I mean Caucasians--"
"You can say 'white people,'" I tell her. "It's fine."
"They came and went to villages and stole people and brought them to America to use as slaves."
I won't tell you how many of my students don't know what a slave is. This week we're making projects to celebrate the election of the first African American president, and my kids have really no concept of the significance of this event. Where to begin?