Date of Award

5-2020

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

English

Committee

Ben Gunsberg

Committee

Chris Gonzalez

Committee

Sonia Manuel-Dupont

Abstract

Modern-day racism exists in mostly subtle ways and is often felt most keenly in the classroom. When schools began the legal integration process in 1954, Black teachers were fired, all-Black schools were closed, and Black students were bused to the formerly all-White schools. In this new environment, Black students and all Students of color were forced to accept and adapt to an educational system that favored Whites over all other racial groups. Today, White Supremacy in education affects the establishment of state and national standards, school and district boundaries, and the un-fair disciplinary action taken against Students of Color. In addition to all of these factors, White Supremacy in education also affects what and how content is being taught in schools. It is manifest in History class when the plights of Native Americans are described as a necessary evil for the advancement of "true" Americans. It is manifest in Science class when the work of White scientists is heralded as the usual and norm while the work of Scientists of Color is often not highlighted. It is also ever-present in the Language Arts classroom where works of White authors are celebrated as the standard for Literature and writing while works by Authors of Color are often categorized as "ethnic" and "other."  While many Language Arts instructors are teaching works of Authors of Color in their classrooms, these same teachers need to use these texts to help engage their students in real discussions about race and identity and the impact of bias and racism on today's society. Productive race talk is essential to dismantling White Supremacy, helping individuals overcome personal racisms, and to helping Students of Color feel represented in their classrooms. The high school Language Arts classroom is the prime atmosphere for race talk because it is a somewhat controlled environment where teachers can use literature and poetry by Authors of Color to help their students learn how to have these difficult discussions.

This thesis argues that it is important for high school students to engage in conversations about race and privilege and that the empowerment of diverse voices in the classroom will only serve to benefit students both inside and outside of the classroom. One way Language Arts teachers can facilitate productive race talk is to use poetry to humanize the "other." Students can use poems as a starting point to discuss topics such as bias, privilege, language and power, and microaggressions. Poetry has a way of reaching the human spirit in a way that no other writing can. Through the discussion of theory and practice, this thesis concludes that through intentional integration of poems by Authors of Color, teachers can help their students confront issues of race and identity and, hopefully, encourage them to take steps towards anti-racism in their individual lives and in society. It also includes a four-week unit plan centered around poetry by Authors of Color that provides practical application of these concepts in 11th and 12th grade Language Arts classrooms.

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