Friday, 4 March 2011

Like Ne-Yo...and Usher...

A long time ago, I wrote a blog post using a writing technique I was teaching at the time. I seem to be teaching a lot about dialogues and scripts lately, so here's one of the latter (because I'm just not a big fan of too many he said she saids).

Scene: 5th grade writing class. The students are telling stories about themselves for their group to write down. The girls are talking about fights at school, the boys are sharing stories about when they studied abroad.

JACOB: ...I went to Washington, D.C. There were a lot of black people there. I went to a museum.
TEACHER: Um, Jacob, is that relevant to your story? You really shouldn't say something like that unless it's relevant or important to your story.

Jacob looks down, but appears to remain unconvinced. A few quiet minutes pass, then the boys start to get noisy again.

JACOB (in a loud voice): I think black people are pretty weird actually. Their all like 'Hey' and whatever...
Pause to think of something appropriate and suppress urge to break child's face.
Ok, Jacob, would I ever say 'I got shoved on the subway this morning. By a Korean.'?
JACOB: Um, no?
TEACHER: But who is more likely to shove me on the subway? A Korean or a white person?
JACOB: A Korean?
TEACHER: That's right. But I wouldn't say that. Because it is RUDE.

Teacher walks back to the front and wonders why the hell these kids study abroad if they come home with exactly the same attitudes they left with.
A few minutes pass.

EDWARD: I like black people actually. Yeah, I was friends with a lot of blacks...I mean, in the Philippines I had a lot of black Americans for friends. I like their style, and the way they talk, all 'Yo yo yo homies'
TEACHER: Yeah, actually black culture is really popular in America - the music and dance and lots of stuff.
EDWARD: Yeah! There's a lot of singers right? Like Ne-Yo...and Usher....

Bell rings and teacher breathes a huge fucking sigh of relief.

This is not the first time race has come up in class, nor do I expect it to be the last. There were a few weeks there where I felt like all I did was explain segregation. One of the stories I taught was about a black family driving a gold Caddilac to Mississippi in the 1950s. Explaining why this was enough 'conflict' for a whole story was definitely challenging. But the message got through, and hopefully those kids will remember it. And thank god there are kids like Edward to balance out the Jacobs.

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