Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Black History Month Project Turns Into Sample AP English Language Essays

"To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." -- W.E.B. DuBois

"Racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can." -- Arthur Ashe

The GoogleDocs PowerPoint

Last month, I posted about the Black History Month project my eleventh-grade students in Honors American Literature class undertook. The results were quite impressive. Here is the slideshow the class compiled about the talented black men and women who have contributed in vital ways to American life:

Student-Made Sample AP English Language Questions on Racism

After we finished reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I had my students take information from the book and from the GoogleDocs presentation they had made in order to come up with an AP English Language-type essay question. The students also had the option of using additional material about racism that they found online. Here are some outstanding student samples:

Student sample 1: Oriel

AP English Language Essay A:

By the end of the Reconstruction in 1977, African Americans had been given their freedom, citizenship, and right to vote under the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments.  However, these provisions would have little effect in the African American struggle for integration into the predominantly white United States society.  In twentieth-century America, African Americans were segregated from white society under the provisions of the Jim Crow Laws and a multitude of Supreme Court Case rulings, such as Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court established de jure segregation (segregation by law) by ruling that segregation was legal under the notion that African Americans could exist as “separate but equal” from white society.  African Americans fought segregation in the twentieth century under Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and later under Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.  The struggle for desegregation in the 20th century culminated in the Civil Rights Act, in which African Americans had their civil rights recognized and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and by facilities that served the general public was declared illegal.  
However, while de jure segregation was destroyed, another type of segregation continued to live on quietly in society and continues to live even in today’s time: de facto segregation, the spatial and social separation of populations, in this case races, that occurs without legal sanction.  This type of segregation is present merely because of the different ways society has evolved and is hardly cognitively recognized by the average person -- people are simply not aware that they live in an enclosed society, one which allows only limited opportunities for racial integration.
Based on the documents presented below, describe whether de facto segregation is prevalent in today’s time.  In addition, decide whether de facto segregation is a negative aspect in society or whether it is merely a fact of our society that has little effect on the lives of its people, black and white alike.  How can this problem be remedied?

Document A:

Schools Are More Segregated Today Than During the Late 1960's

In his commencement speech at San Diego State College, the President of the United States covered unsurprising territory in describing the challenges facing the nation's public schools -- inequities for minority students, a high dropout rate, and the need for better teacher training.

What might be surprising is that the president was John F. Kennedy, and he was addressing the class of 1963.

"Our current education programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility," Kennedy said on June 6, 1963 at what is now San Diego State University. "The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be."

Five days after that graduation speech -- and 49 years ago today -- Kennedy delivered his historic speech on civil rights from the Oval Office. His commencement address "was a recognition of what needed to be done," said Gary Orfield, an education professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. "The last time the three branches of government worked together to do something about segregation started with that period."

The familiarity of Kennedy's remarks from a vantage point of nearly half a century "speaks both to the aspirations we all have for education and how tough these issues are," said Andrew Rotherham, who co-founded Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C., focusing on improving opportunities for low-income students. "He's talking about exactly the same problems we're talking about now."

Indeed, Kennedy made reference in his remarks to the segregated schools of the South and the "de facto" segregation in the North. Many of the underlying problems of segregation haven't been solved, even if it's no longer legal, Rotherham said.

"Laws that sentenced blacks to third-class educations -- those were the easy targets," said Rotherham, who was a special assistant for domestic policy during the Clinton administration. "What's driving segregation now is housing patterns, and that's much more difficult to solve. It's also not necessarily a problem you can solve with education."

There are public policy initiatives that can "nudge things along," Rotherham said, "but no one runs for school board on a platform for changing the school boundaries. There's a reason for that."

Researchers like Orfield note that the nation's public schools are more segregated today than they were in the late 1960s. According to Orfield, part of that backslide is due to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past two decades. That includes a landmark 2007 decision invalidating Seattle Public Schools' voluntary desegregation plan which used race as a factor in school zoning decisions.

Many of the nation's schools are segregated by ethnicity and poverty, and for some minority students -- particularly the soaring Latino population -- the segregation is also by language, Orfield said. While the nation's racial barriers are lower in many ways, those advances have not been enough to cancel out the effect of inadequate political leadership and a "hostile" Supreme Court, he said.

"When Kennedy made that speech, no one knew how to do what he was going for," Orfield said. "Now, we know how to do this. We know what works and what doesn't work. But we're not doing anything about it. We are allowing our Latino population to grow up in some of the most segregated schools we've ever had."
To Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group focused on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps for poor and minority children, Kennedy's speech was distressingly familiar. With the exception of Kennedy's references to California as a leader in public education and a fiscal model for the nation, "the same speech could be given today with equal urgency," Haycock said.

The Golden State is certainly struggling in the wake of the recession, and both K-12 and higher education are reeling from substantial cuts to funding, programming and services. In a recent blog post, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation called Kennedy's speech "a reminder of a period in California's not too distant past, when the Golden State led the nation in expanding the commitment to preparing future generations of educated citizens."

While funding issues are certainly part of the problem in many states, "a lot of the inequities are actually choices that educators make," Haycock said. "I don't think educators always think of it as a conscious choice, but it is."

The research suggests that "when a classroom is overwhelmingly black and poor, we expect less of kids," Haycock said. As an example, she pointed to enrollment data for higher-level math classes. In most states, not even the highest-achieving black and Hispanic students get access to algebra in the eighth grade, although it's more commonplace for their white peers, Haycock said.

"Kennedy was clear that while we might not all have equal abilities, we have to provide truly equal opportunities to all children -- that's where we continue to lag, and where we stand out among developed countries," Haycock said. "We continue to spend less on poor students, we give them the weakest teachers, and we assign them to the lowest level courses."

That's not to say the United States hasn't made significant strides in the decades since Kennedy's speech. But the lack of greater progress -- including in the critical area of teacher preparation -- is disheartening, Haycock said.

Document B:

Document C:

The De-Facto Segregation of Health Care
AUGUST 21, 2009

Opponents of health care reform haven't shied away from invoking race. Why are advocates afraid to point out that people of color suffer the worst inequities of the current system?

Last week, over 8,000 people lined up to be treated by medical volunteers at the Forum stadium in Inglewood, California. It was a rare moment of visibility for the hidden faces of the health-care debate -- the 46 million Americans without health insurance, who have largely been obscured by the rage and fear expressed at town hall meetings and rallies. The majority are nonwhite and live in segregated neighborhoods without access to quality health care. It was the first time the organization, Remote Area Medical, had arranged this kind of an event in an urban area, the teeming crowds a reminder of the ongoing health-care crisis plaguing people of color. "This need has existed in this country for decades and decades," RAM founder Ed Brock told the Associated Press. "The people coming here are here because they are in pain."

They are in pain because of an inadequate health-care system exacerbated by the ongoing legacy of racial segregation, which limits access to quality care. "Segregation is still a profound problem in the United States," says Brian Smedley, a health-care expert with the Center for Joint Political and Economic Studies. "We've made a lot of progress in the past 50 years, [but] in many U.S. cities, we have segregation levels that are not far below apartheid South Africa."

That ongoing de-facto segregation has a profound effect on the quality of care to which people of color -- insured or otherwise -- have access. While the health-care bills being debated in Congress would expand access to and quality of care for people of color, ultimately racial health disparities can't be eliminated without better distribution of health resources. That doesn't just mean more and better primary-care providers in minority neighborhoods; it also means environmentally safe living conditions, access to fresh and healthy foods, and safer and more exercise-friendly neighborhoods.

Racial disparities related to health care can be broken down into two categories: access and outcomes. Nonwhites are 52 percent of the uninsured population, the largest proportion of which is Hispanic, at 30 percent -- but those numbers don't tell the whole story about access. Even when people of color are covered, their access to quality care is diminished heavily by ongoing segregation and poverty; in nonwhite neighborhoods, it's simply harder to find a primary provider than it is in white neighborhoods. The facilities that exist are often of lower quality and lack the resources institutions located in primarily white areas have.

What this means is that even when minorities are covered by health insurance, they're less likely to have quality care and less able to afford the associated out-of-pocket expenses -- and the results are staggering. Children born to black women are more than twice as likely to die within their first year of life as are children born to white women. This disparity is unaffected by income or education level. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the mortality rate for infants of college-educated black women is 11.5 deaths for 1,000 live births, more than twice that for infants of similarly educated white women, 4.2 for 1,000 live births.

It's not just infant mortality. According to a 2004 analysis published in theAmerican Journal of Public Health, if the mortality rate of blacks had been the same as that of whites between 1991 and 2000, 880,000 deaths could have been avoided. People of color are more likely to suffer and die from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, they're less likely to get the kinds of life-saving treatments that whites get, and they're more likely to receive the kinds of treatments you would avoid if you could -- such as limb amputation for diabetes.

African Americans made up almost half of the new cases of HIV infection recorded in the 2000 Census. People of color are less likely to have seen a dentist. Only 27 percent of African Americans and Hispanics, 36 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, and 41 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives reported seeing a dentist in the past year, compared to nearly half of whites who had. A fifth of black adults report being in poor or fair health, slightly more than Hispanic adults and nearly twice as many as white adults. 

Some of these conditions are due to disparities in employment, education, and wealth. Language and cultural barriers also hinder effective care, preventing patients and doctors from communicating effectively about medical problems and treatments. But disparities persist even when controlling for income and education levels, the most reliable indicators of quality coverage.

"The reasons why many racial and ethnic minority groups have poorer health literally from the cradle to the grave are many and varied; they're primarily related to socioeconomic differences," Smedley says, "but they're also profoundly related to living conditions."

Given the harrowing public-health crisis facing people of color, it's easy to understand why thousands of people would line up in Inglewood looking for quality care. The House version of the health-care reform bill, America's Affordable Health Choices Act, would help reduce barriers to health insurance access by expanding Medicaid, prohibiting discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, capping out-of-pocket expenses, and subsidizing the purchase of health insurance below 400 percent of the poverty level. But while both the Senate and the House bills expand community health centers, when it comes to addressing issues like geographic barriers to quality health care stemming from ongoing de-facto segregation, the bills are less aggressive than some health-care policy advocates would like.

Some health care experts argue that in addition to expanding coverage, the key to reducing racial health disparities lies in prevention measures. "They're putting more focus on prevention and quality services, wellness care as opposed to sick care," says Dr. Willarda V. Edwards of the National Medical Association. "That's what we need to be focused on."

Both the House's and the Senate's proposals offer funds for community-based programs that focus on prevention by addressing issues like obesity and smoking -- things that contribute to the onset of such chronic diseases as diabetes and cancer later in life. "Ensuring that the final legislation includes prevention could actually be one of the most important steps [in] decreasing if not eliminating some of these disparities," says Judith Bell, president of Policylink, an advocacy organization focused on social and economic equality. But prevention has so much to do with living conditions -- like living in a polluted area or one without access to fresh food -- that health-care reform can only do so much.

During the presidential campaign, President Barack Obama avoided making the case for health reform in racial terms. This has continued, with the administration reluctant to point out racial disparities in access to or quality of care for people of color, preferring to make the case for health-care reform in race-neutral terms. An argument for how health-care reform would benefit the poor has also been absent. Opponents of reform haven't been as shy about invoking race, particularly when it comes to whether the bill covers undocumented immigrants. An Investor's Business Daily editorial called health-care reform "affirmative-action on steroids" and argued that it was a form of reparations for slavery, a description echoed by Fox News personality Glenn Beck. Much of the rage at town hall meetings across the country has been fueled by the misperception that the reform proposals would extend health coverage to undocumented immigrants. None of the current versions do -- a politically convenient decision that ignores the cost incurred by not covering everyone.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University, believes the administration's decision to avoid race may not have been a wise one. "Obama really does believe that the best way to pass good social policy that has a beneficial effect for people of color is by never mentioning race," she says. "They were trying to do what they did in the campaign, which is focus on similarities rather than differences. … It’s not like the opposition isn't capable of bringing this up anyway."

"I think they fumbled the ball on this one," she adds.

Student Sample 2: Kayla

Sample AP English Language Essay A:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is commonly viewed as a classic piece of American literature. However in a world still constantly fighting racism, Huck Finn has become a point of controversy. Some argue that the novel is a satirical portrayal of racism, intent on combating racist views.  Others argue that its constant use of vulgar and derogatory language, anti-African American plot line, and implied favoritism towards white Americans makes the book a manifestation of racism. Those of the latter opinion argue that to protect today’s youth from such controversial views of racism and to avoid racial conflicts in desegregated schools, Huck Finn should be censored and banned from various schools and public libraries.
Based on the sources below, assess the value in censorship and Huck Finn’s place in a desegregated society. In your argument, evaluate the appropriateness of censoring Huck Finn as a negative influence on America’s youth.
~Document A: The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn by Peaches Henry

The presence of black students in the classrooms of white America, the attendant tensions of a country attempting to come to terms with its racial tragedies, and the new empowerment of blacks to protest led to Huck Finn's greatest struggle with censorship and banning. Black protesters, offended by the repetitions of "nigger" in the mouths of white and black characters, Twain's minstrel­like portrayal of the escaped slave Jim and of black characters in general, and the negative traits assigned to blacks, objected to the use of Huck Finn in English courses. Though blacks may have previously complained about the racially offensive tone of the novel, it was not until September 1957 that the New York Times reported the first case that brought about official reaction and obtained public attention for the conflict. The New York City Board of Education had removed Huck Finn from the approved textbook lists of elementary and junior high schools. The book was no longer available for classroom use at the elementary and junior high school levels, but could be taught in high school and purchased for school libraries. Though the Board of Education acknowledged no outside pressure to ban the use of Huck Finn, a representative of one publisher said that school officials had cited "some passages derogatory to Negroes" as the reason for its contract not being renewed. The NAACP, denying that it had placed any organized pressure on the board to remove Huck Finn, nonetheless expressed displeasure with the presence of "racial slurs" and "belittling racial designations" in many of Twain's works. (4) Whether or not the source of dissatisfaction could be identified, disapproval of Huck Finn's racial implications existed and had made itself felt.
~ Document B:

“One of the world¹s great books and one of the central documents of American culture.”- Lionel Trilling

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn... There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” -Ernest Hemingway

“For the past forty years, black families have trekked to schools in numerous districts throughout the country to say, ³This book is not good for our children,² only to be turned away by insensitive and often unwittingly racist teachers and administrators who respond, ³This book is a classic.²” -John H. Wallace

~ Document C: Racism and Huckleberry Finn: Censorship, Dialogue, and Change by Allen Webb 

Despite the novel¹s sanctified place and overtly anti-racist message, since school desegregation in the 1950's, black Americans have raised objections to Huckleberry Finn and its effect on their children. Linking their complaints with the efforts of other groups to influence the curriculum, we English teachers have seen the issue as one of censorship, defending the novel and our right to teach it. In so doing we have been properly concerned: the freedom of English teachers to design and implement curriculum must be protected as censorship undermines the creation of an informed citizenry able to make critical judgments between competing ideas. Yet considering the objections to Huckleberry Finn only in terms of freedom and censorship doesn't resolve potentially divisive situations that can arise in either high school or college settings. For this we need to listen to objections raised to the novel and reconsider the process of teaching it. Entering into a dialogue with those that have objections to Huckleberry Finn can help us think the dynamics of race in literature courses and about the way literature depicts, interrogates, and affirms our national culture and history.

…..While a couple of the contributors to Satire or Evasion* develop complex explanations of how the end of the novel serves as "Twain's satire on the extremes to which the defeated Confederacy went to keep the black population enslaved" (213), for the most part these African American scholars and teachers are profoundly disappointed with Huck Finn's final chapters. Although Jim runs away early on in the book, his independence is downplayed because he never makes his own way to freedom; it is Miss Watson¹s benevolence rather than Jim¹s intelligence or courage that gain him his liberty. Further, the believeability of the deus ex machina freeing of Jim depends on an unsustainably innocent view of racial relations. Speaking of the public knowledge that Jim is suspected of killing Huck, writer and English professor Julius Lester comments, "Yet we are now to believe that an old white lady would free a black slave suspected of murdering a white child. White people may want to believe such fairy tales about themselves, but blacks know better" (203). *An analysis of Huckleberry Finn by a group of prominent black scholars

~ Document D: Satire and Evasion: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn 

[In Huckleberry Finn] civilization is equated with education, regularity, decency, and being cramped up, and the representations of civilization are women... The fact that the novel is regarded as a classic tells us much about the psyche of the white American male, because the novel is a power evocation of the puerile, the eternal boy for whom growth, maturity, and responsibility are enemies. (Satire and Evasion, 205)
~Document E:

If I were asked by a child what literature is, is I should say, “It is a new pair of eyes—dozens of pairs—with which to see things you never dreamed of, and, what is still better perhaps, to see things differently which you have often seen.” – M Ellwood Smith

~Document F: Public Libraries and Intellectual Freedom by Gordon Conable

American democracy is dependent upon a belief that the people are capable of self-government. To secure our basic rights, we believe that “governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In this country, we have taken this to mean “informed consent.”

The concept of informed consent only has meaning if the full range of human ideas is accessible to the people. 

The proponents of the various points of view must be able to make their cases fully and openly, however popular or unpopular they may be, before the individual and collective judgment of their fellow citizens.

This principle is embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects the free expression of ideas:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

By providing the information and resources necessary for open, free, and unrestricted dialogue on all issues of concern, the public library preserves these freedoms.

It is the genius of the American system that we base our liberty on the broadest protection of each individual’s rights to free expression and on the corollary right to access the expression of others. It is the genius of the American public library to be an institution dedicated to promoting the exercise of these rights.
American public libraries flourish out of a commitment to the principle that knowledge and access to information empower the individual. Libraries embody the firm belief that information must not be the exclusive province of a privileged few and that it should be widely and freely available to all.

The active advocacy of intellectual freedom is a challenge that all librarians accept when they join the profession. It lies at the heart of the public’s trust, and it is the librarian’s highest duty.

Student Sample C: Talia

Sample AP English Language Essay C: 

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  ~Robert F. Kennedy

My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, "Let up on me—it ain't too late yet—I'll paddle ashore at the first light and tell." I felt easy and happy and light as a feather right off. All my troubles was gone. -Huck Finn (About turning Jim in)

Should we support people who are looked down on, and unwanted by society, even if it causes us harm?  Compare the quotes to support your position.

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