Current/Recent Reading List

09 December 2007

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Our sophomores are supposed to do a mini-research project which helps prepare them for ever-larger research projects as they move up the ladder, until they ultimately get to their big bad senior projects (which are now required in this state for graduation). So (unsurprisingly), all the sophomore English teachers, including moi, are rushing to sneak this project in before the semester is over.

On Friday, I started canvassing my classes on what topics each person was interested in, approving/disapproving the topics and/or giving guidance. Many of them had wonderful ideas which even excited me. One little group of suspected stoners all wanted to do something about Woodstock, or The Who, or some such nonsense. And then there were the black kids.

I know, I know - this gets me into certain territories that dare not speak their names in polite society, but here I go anyway. In my first period class, I have three black boys, and three black girls. Of the boys, one is really an exceptional student, one is middle of the road, and one is, unfortunately, and athlete stereotype who is barely surviving the class. I haven't yet spoken with the first two of these, but the latter kid only knows he wants to do his project on something involving gangs - surprise, surprise. What really intrigued me were the choices of the three girls, all of whom are really bright and the kind of students colleges would be dying to offer scholarships to (one is a little more exceptional than the other two, and might really go far). Well, guess what they want to do research on? Yep - gangs! gangs! gangs! Or, in one case, Biggie Smalls! or maybe Tupac!

I shot down (no pun intended) most of these ideas, only allowing one which was at least formulated into a legitimate research question. What they kept saying in response was, "But this is about RE-A-LITY, Mr. P!"

I didn't have time to debate with them, but if I had, I might have wondered aloud about at what point RE-A-LITY keeps being RE-A-LITY because it is a self-fulfilling prohecy: keep telling yourselves you are all gangsters, or surrounded by gangsters, and maybe you will eventually think you should be gangsters. Here are three intelligent girls with potentially bright futures, yet they watch the same media romanticizing of gang life as the real gang-bangers do. And I could hear in their voices a sense of pleasure in describing the awful RE-A-LITY of gang life that infests so many black communities. Sure, they would deplore it if forced to, I suppose. But that would deprive them, a little, of something they have come to keep a little too close to their hearts. Yes, of course it's real, but it is reality tinged with mythos at this point, and an endless loop of rap/hip-hop lyrics, videos, websites, and magazines both feed and are fed by the romance of the myth.

Now, there is a small percentage of white kids who get swept up in the romance of it all as well, and we all know some of the unsavory names that are given to such folk. But exceptions aside, in describing my reaction to my students, I'm describing racial divides between us. But the racial divides of the 21st century, are, from my perspective, spawning from different sources than from the old days. There may be relationships between the divides of the past and the present, but something new, and nasty is at work these days, and it is affecting us all. I would put it this way: as more and more black youths fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy of RE-A-LITY, more whites find it easier to write blacks off as "never going to get it."

That is not fair, because there is a prosperous black middle class. But the black middle class isn't being romanticized on music video channels, or showing up on the nightly news.


Kathy said...


I'm a big fan of your blog and am rooting for you as a teacher. Sometimes, though, your blog entries get a little hard to take because they can be so depressing. (And I'm a criminal lawyer, so that's saying a lot -- at least I console myself that we criminal lawyers deal with the fringes of society.)

Today's entry really pushed me over the edge (or at least out of lurker mode). What can be done? How to break the cycle?

JP said...

Kids are still doing gang essays?! I did my junior (16+ years ago) social something or other paper on there needing to be more youth centers to combat the growth of gangs.

Which, considering my race and the area I was living in at the time, was quite naive. Hee.

School Master P said...

Kathy - thanks for commenting. It is not my secret plan to depress lurkers into action, but I love getting comments. What's interesting (and perhaps hopeful) is to watch how some of the college-bound black kids discreetly disassociate themselves from the gangsta' stuff. One of my yearbook kids, who is the junior class president and whose mother is a family doctor, knows the whole rap/hip-hop scene like the back of her hand, but it is an amusing diversion for her, and she never dresses it or pretends to occupy that scene. I see others like her as well. How much sway do kids like her have? Hard to say, but she doesn't seem at all self-conscious about seeming too "white", is is still popular among black kids, which is encouraging.

JP - Hey, at least your paper was arguing for something positive.

You would think that after 16 years or so the whole gang-fascination would have run its course, but unfortunately it seems to have gotten bigger. The day I quit seeing baggy shirts and sagging pants everywhere around the school will be a sign of improvement.