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Education in A Lesson Before Dying

Group presentation for EngL 3741: Literacy & Diversity at University of Minnesota.
by

Holly Harrison

on 20 April 2010

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Transcript of Education in A Lesson Before Dying

Education in A Lesson Before Dying by Ashley, Holly, Luke, and Mary Ashley: What kinds of "education" are represented in the novel? Disconnect between: Grant the teacher
Grant the "socially subordinate" black man What is the relationship between school and "real life"? Holly: Luke: How is Grant struggling with the views of his former teacher Matthew Antoine? Mary: According to the novel, can we infer what an ideal education might actually consist? What sorts of students, citizens, people would it ideally help to create? Questions: In A Lesson Before Dying: Today: “Real life” affects education... But education (in the case of most of the black characters) barely affects "real life." When it comes to teaching classes, Grant knows the procedure. But when it comes to teaching "manhood," Grant is stumped. My desk was a table, used as a collection table by the church on Sundays, and also used for the service of the Holy Sacrament on the fourth Sunday of each month. My students’ desks were the benches upon which their parents and grandparents sat during church meeting. . . . I was supposed to teach six months out of the year, but actually I taught only five and a half months . . . when the children were not needed in the field. . . . Only by assigning the upper-grade students to teach the lower grades was it possible to reach all the students every day. I devoted the last two hours in the afternoon to the fifth and sixth grades. (pp. 34-5) I was too educated for Henri Pichot;
he had no use for me at all anymore. (p. 21) " . . . What do I say to him? Do I know what a man is? Do I know how a man is supposed to die? I'm still trying to find out how a man should live. Am I supposed to tell someone how to die who has never lived?" (p. 31) [Mr. Farrell] had known me all my life . . . but since I had gone off to the university and returned as a teacher, he treated me with great respect. (p. 40) "What you plan on doing when you come up there--if I let you come up there?" Guidry asked me.

"I have no idea, sir," I told him.

"You're not trying to play with me, now, are you?" Guidry asked.

"No, sir, I'm not. But I have no idea what I'll talk to him about." (pp. 48-9) It was ten minutes to five.

. . . It was five-fifteen. No Sam Guidry, and no one else, except Inez, had come into the kitchen to say anything to me.

. . . At five-thirty, we heard people entering the house off the front gallery.

. . . I had come through that back door against my will, and it seemed that he and the sheriff were doing everything they could to humiliate me even more by making me wait on them.

. . . I had been standing there for nearly two and a half hours. (pp. 42-6) (Even if he doesn't know how to break the cycle.) "What did you learn about your own people? . . . You far from being educated. You learned your reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, but you don't know nothing. You don't even know yourself." (Reverend Ambrose, p. 215) Education vs. Intelligence Education vs. Training Achievement Gap Inner-city schools:
Is "separate but equal" over? From Michael Warr's
"Brain on Ice": Not calmed by my Givenchy tie
Or Bass Boy penny loafers.
Apparently not reassured
By my literary look.
Unmoved by my perusal of the
New York Review of Books.
To them I am Cabrini Green
Strapped to an attaché case,
And for instilled fear
Of being robbed, stabbed, raped
Or worse
Conversed with incoherently,
They dare not sit next to me.

I am the Color Purple
In a navy blue overcoat
I am Bigger Thomas on his way to work.
I may be Nat Turner on urbanized revolt
I am Mandingo
With a big thick black
Toshiba laptop.
I am Super Fly with Oxford collar
And Harvard law degree
An invisible do-rag hovers above
My missing Malcom X shades,
There is a bulge in my pocket
And it just might be a blade.
I am the stereotypical cause-effect
That masochistically strikes them blind.

(259) "Yes, I'm the teacher," I said. "And I teach what the white folks around here tell me to teach—reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. They never told me how to keep a black boy out of a liquor store.” (p. 13) "I want the teacher make him know he's not a hog, he's a man." (Miss Emma, p. 20) "In that case I won't punish you for looking out the window," I said. "But I'm going to punish you for using bad grammar. You were supposed to say, 'You were looking out the window, Mr. Wiggins,' not 'You was looking out the window, Mr. Wiggins.'" (p. 60) I tried to decide just how I should respond to them. Whether I should act like the teacher that I was, or like the nigger that I was supposed to be. I decided to wait and see how the conversation went. (Grant, p. 47) He emphasized "doesn't." I was supposed to have said 'don't.' I was being too smart. (Grant, p. 48) "Leave it," the sheriff said, "I'll see that he gets it. Batries, I hope."

"Yes, sir, batries," I said. I had almost said "batteries." (Guidry and Grant, p. 177) Grant progresses through three stages: 1. Grant endeavors to become the teacher Antoine never was and that Grant always needed 2. Grant becomes disillusioned and wonders whether he is merely a pawn in a vicious cycle, thus identifying with Antoine 3. Grant recognizes a void in, or perhaps a complete absence of, the proper education his students need From here, he explores new ways of teaching. Grant seems to think an ideal education would promote socioeconomic change. And I thought to myself, What am I doing? Am I reaching them at all? They are acting exactly as the old men did earlier. They are fifty years younger, maybe more, but doing the same thing those old men did who never attended school a day in their lives. Is it just a vicious circle? Am I doing anything? (p. 62) The author shows us that the education of the black community is not necessarily valued. "I do the best I can with what I have to work with, Dr. Joseph. I don't
have all the books I need. In some classes I have two children studying out
of one book. And even with that, some of the pages in the book are missing.
I need more paper to write on, I need more chalk for the blackboards, I
need more pencils, I even need a better heater." (Grant, p. 57) Irene is portrayed as a helpful and responsible woman character. But is she strong or propagating the status quo? Grant seems to realize that teaching Jefferson has differed from teaching his students. Perhaps this is a more ideal education? "I could never be a hero. I teach, but I don't like teaching. I teach because it is the only thing that an educated black man can do in the South today. . . . That is not a hero. A hero does for others. He would do anything for people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better. I am not that kind of person, but I want you to be." (Grant, p. 191) Did Jefferson's personal transformation validate the use of the term "hog" earlier in the book? What does this imply for attitudes towards educated individuals in society today? In the book, we observe cycles of education in which black children go through school to only end up doing the working class jobs of previous generations. How has the situation today changed? How is it similar? "You'll see that it'll take more than five and a half months to wipe away . . . the blanket of ignorance that has been plastered and replastared over those brains in the past three hundred years." (Mr. Antoine, p. 64) "What am I doing? Am I reaching them at all? They are acting exactly as the old men did earlier . . . Is it just a vicious cycle?" (Grant, p. 62) "I have always done what they wanted me to do, teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Nothing else - nothing about dignity, nothing about identity, nothing about loving and caring." (Grant, p. 162) Definitions of "education" in the novel: 1. Acquiring knowledge traditionally 2. Gaining skills to prepare oneself for life and/or death Ideal definition of "educated": Degree holding and knowledgeable about life and culture Actively participating in acquiring new knowledge that will help you reason through every obstacle in your life He teaches the students basic education so they can better themselves... ...but he flip-flops between being assertive and succumbing to what is socially expected of him.
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