Ok, I posted this, then I got all insecure and I deleted it (after a few of you were kind enough to comment) and then I remembered that I like to kick insecurities in the butt...so here I am reposting this.
Rowena, the Warrior Girl, tagged me the other day. I was supposed to give six random facts about myself, but instead, I thought I would share with you all a story. I've been meaning to write more lately, and I wrote this a couple of months ago and haven't shared it with many people, so I thought I would share it here. It gives a pretty good idea of me. I love recreating moments from my memory that were as good in real life as they appear on paper.
So here you go....the number one reason why The Scarlet Letter remains one of my favorite books. And yes, the principal really told me not to teach it.
Whatever you do, DON’T teach The Scarlet Letter
“Ok, y’all settle down.” I stood at the front of the room holding a box of The Scarlet Letter. Now listen, because I’m going to tell you something. No one in this school believes that you can read this book.” I started handing the books out, one by one, looking each student in the eye. “They don’t think you’ll ‘get it.’” I said as I passed one to Shenedria, then Sharonda, then Sh’miae, and finally to Caroldoria, my saving C in a row of S’s. “In fact, they told me not to teach it.” I paused and looked into Jabbar’s face, my most rebellious student, I knew he would love this. “So, guess what our new unit is going to be? “ Jabbar’s face turned into a slight smile as he felt the book in his hands. I kept walking and passing out the book. “Ok, we’re going to start today. It won’t be easy.” I said this as I looked into Jordy’s eyes. He knew something about life not being easy. He was 19, still trying to pass high school. His parents had abandoned him long ago, leaving him and his younger brother with his aged grandmother. He worked nights, sometimes all night. He never turned in his homework, but he always showed up for class. “It’s going to take effort.” A book to Bintu. “It’s going to take dedication.” A book to Tyrell. “It’s going to take us working together.” The last book to Amanda, the only white girl besides me. I went and moved back to the front of the room with my book in hand. “However, I really think this is a valuable book. On the surface it is about a love affair between a married woman and a priest.” Shouts, yells, and other suggestive whistles filled the air. “But underneath you will find a story about not being accepted by society, about making decisions, and most of all, about the judgments we place on others. So keep your hands and feet to yourself and enjoy the ride.”
The first chapter took us two days to go through, the new vocabulary came daily as I would read a paragraph. We would stop, and I would put it into understandable terms. The significance of the detail of the prison door, the lone rose bush that grew outside, the significance of starting the novel after the affair to show consequences, and the symbol of Pearl herself. They loved it, they struggled with it, they related to it, they lived it.
The time came for the first writing assignment. The kids had to write their own ideas of what was driving Arthur Dimmesdale. What were his intentions and motives? I came to Dicarrio Jenkins’ paper, the paper of the kid who, on the first day of class, told me I needed to pronounce his name with “a little more attitude.” This was his paper, “Arthur Dimmesdale was the baby daddy who jus wanted a booty call.” I remember that paper because I learned for the first time the definitions of “baby daddy” and “booty call.” I had to smile because I couldn’t mark it wrong.
I had four pregnant 16 year olds in that class. None of them married, none of them ready to be mothers. In fact, two babies had been found in the trashcans earlier in the year. The girls had gone into the bathrooms, given birth, then threw the babies away because they didn't know what to do. We talked about Hester raising Pearl alone. We talked about not having a father there to help, most of these kids didn’t have fathers either. During one poignant discussion, a young girl, Sade, came up to me and said, “Oh, Miss Bee, I be fittin’ to have this baby, can I use the hall pass, ma’am?” Just then her water broke. There was an amniotic fluid stain on the carptet all year long. That remains today, the most valid reason for using the hall pass I have ever had. I called the office, they called the ambulance. Did my kids understand having babies when you shouldn’t?
They became fascinated with the scarlet letter Hester was forced to wear. A large red A marking her sins to the world, telling the community to avoid her. These kids have grown up thinking that the color of their skin is a Scarlet Letter. Did they understand what it would be like to be in Hester’s shoes?
A black on white fight broke out across the school at a part a few days later. Many of my kids saw it, and some of them were in it. It’s the old West Side Story kind of fight. We discussed it, like we did everything. I realized that I was, to many of them, the moral parental influence that they so desperately needed. Did they learn from the hate that consumed Roger Chillingworth?
Day after day, week after week, we read, and talked, read and talked. I lost my voice, I bought it on tape, and still we read.
The day we finished. I will never forget. It was a graduation scene from a cheesy WB drama like Felicity, only it was in inner city Florida, the kids didn’t have name brand clothes and BMW’s. In fact the ceiling had fallen in the day before, the heater ran non-stop and there was a never-ending battle against cockroaches. I read the last sentence. Arthur and Hester were now buried quietly besides each other. I closed my book. There was a moment of silence. I looked up at them and said, “You did it.” Then the explosion I was waiting for. They stood, they cheered, they hugged, they threw their novels up in the air like graduation caps.
When everyone said they couldn’t do it, they did it.