- Paperback: 165 pages
- Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers; ILL edition (January 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1571103937
- ISBN-13: 978-1571103932
- Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap ILL Edition
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No pop shots here - just good advice!
Tatum's central idea is that a careful choice of texts in the literacy classroom can make this possible. For his black male students, texts that address "turmoil" - the word Tatum uses for violence, poverty, and a sense of powerlessness and invisibility in poor black communities - achieve this end. Tatum makes a convincing case for this by giving personal examples of how such empowering texts of the black male experience can change the lives of young black men. He recalls transformative experiences in reading from his own childhood and from his work with others that convincingly illustrate how certain texts can turn reading into a reflection on masculinity, coming of age, and being poor and black in a racist America. This gives reading a sense of relevance and authenticity impossible with most traditional texts in American classrooms. Tatum combines this with copious reading lists (though I wish he would have compiled them into one long list for easy reference) that provide ample fodder for an English teacher planning a curriculum.
The greatest strength of this book is that it lets the reader peer into Tatum's own eighth grade English classroom, where he does the work of "closing the achievement gap" for his black male students. The seventh chapter brims with Tatum's own instructional methodology. His concrete methods for literacy skill development, infused oh-so-subtly with culturally sensitive cues that elevate them above mere decontextualized drill, were amazing. To me, this chapter felt like sitting down with a cup of coffee and talking shop with a first-rate teacher. As a high school math teacher, I became envious of the English teacher's situation, where skill remediation can be integrated so seamlessly with topics relevant to students' lives.
Unfortunately, for the strength of its ideas, Tatum's text has many of the typical flaws of a text in academic education (or, more broadly, a text in the social sciences). It is cluttered with jargon, stilted classifications of simple ideas, and vacuous figures and diagrams. What takes Tatum pages to say would take only a few sentences in the hands of a better writer. Entire chapters seem to address esoteric theoretical aspects that never seem to get through to the reader. Tatum, the English teacher, is meticulous with his proofreading and grammar. Try to find a typo, dangling participle, or example of faulty parallelism: I have yet to find one. But his prose is surprisingly wooden, often tiring the reader with its deadpan repetitiveness. In a more egregious example, Tatum repeats an unepigrammatic sentence four times, interspersed with vague references to government research:
"Achievement gap data indicate that a large percentage of black males are failing to meet NAEP criteria for reading at the proficient and advanced levels. This is why I believe we need to strengthen text discussions with our black adolescent male students. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice tell us that a high percentage of black males are arrested or incarcerated. This is why I believe we need to strengthen text discussions with our black adolescent male students. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate a high percentage of black males are unemployed. This is why I believe we need to strengthen text discussions with our black adolescent male students. Data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that college enrollment is declining for black males. This is why I believe we need to strengthen text discussions with our black adolescent male students." (112)
It is too bad that Tatum lacks the skill as a writer to give his message a persuasive punch. Tatum's strategy to build literacy, self-awareness, and academic motivation through empowering texts is remarkable for its sensibility and promise. It deserves a wide audience and enthusiastic application in American inner-city classrooms.