Anne (netmouse) wrote,

Learning about race, racism, and inequality: schoolbooks

[cross-posted to racism_101]

In a discussion the other day I was comparing a story someone told online to the storyline of a book I thought everyone reads in elementary school, junior high or high school, about race. My companion didn't recognize the story and when I managed to remember the title and the author (The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison), he confirmed he hadn't read it. We then went through a series of titles I read in school and for some reason thought most people my age had been exposed to in school. He had read none of them, and pointed out that I grew up in a community that particularly valued diversity. I don't know why I had kind of assumed this aspect of my education was somehow a "typical" American Literature education.

I found myself wondering, what did other people read to learn about race and cultural differences and how to connect across them? These books? Something different?

So I thought I would post and ask: Did you read these books in school? If so, what do you think of them? If not, what did you read? Regardless, what contemporary books can you recommend for school age children for teaching these kinds of lessons?

The books are shown and listed here and described below the cut tag. The Bluest Eye, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry were all taught in class. I came upon The Chosen on my own but was told others studied it in school. As for The Cay and The Wave, I don't remember where or when I got them, but I've had them since I was quite young, and they are good books relevant to the topic, so I wanted to include them.


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The first book in Maya Angelou's five-book autobiography, this book vividly describes what it was like for Maya to grow up as black woman in the 1930s. Topics in the book include the sexual assault of a young person so it is not appropriate for very young readers, but I do think that most teenagers could benefit from reading it.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
This book won the Newbery Medal and a search on turns up more teachers' editions than regular ones, so I guess it's been fairly widely taught. Another book about young black kids growing up and learning to deal with racism and social injustice.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Morrison gives a heart-breakingly clear depiction of how a child reacts when the societal image of beauty and specialness does not include her: she wishes to be other than she is.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
This is a story of a young white boy who lives in the West Indies and gets stranded on an island with a black man (and a cat). Much more of a feel-good story than the others so far, The Cay explores issues of both race and class as the boy is struck blind and must depend on his older companion to teach him how to survive.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
This is the story of a friendship between an orthodox Jew and another boy who is from a different culture. I first read Chaim Potok's My name is Asher Lev, which is about a orthodox jewish artist's struggle to find a bridge between his faith and his yearning to draw. I have read everything I've found by him since and recommend it all.

The Wave by Todd Strasser
"The classroom experiment that went too far" --this book is a dramatization of a 1969 incident in a high school history class in California that stemmed from a teacher's efforts to teach about group pressure and social movements. It was also made into an ABC dramma, which is available on DVD.
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