by Amiri Baraka
Workshop Title: I Am
Ask your students to discuss something in education that they consider inaccurate or controversial. Is there something that seems outdated? Or limited in scope?
Briefly read the following definition of “Western Civilization” and its controversy.
- The study of “Western civilization” in schools primarily focuses on the historical and cultural developments of Europe and North America, centering on regions and populations with European origins. This curriculum covers societal evolution, influential figures, and major events, alongside literature, art, and philosophy from Eurocentric perspectives. It also examines political systems, democratic ideals, individual rights, and acknowledges the impact of European colonialism on a global scale. The study includes Western religious traditions, particularly Christianity, and the influence of scientific and technological advancements.
- In the 1990s, a significant controversy emerged over the teaching of Western civilization, particularly in college-level courses. At the heart of the debate was the concern that these courses, which traditionally focused on the cultural and intellectual contributions of Western Europe and North America, were perceived as Eurocentric and exclusionary. Critics argued that such an approach marginalized non-Western perspectives and overlooked the global interconnectedness of historical and cultural developments. As a result, there were calls to expand the curriculum to include a broader range of voices and experiences, recognizing contributions from diverse regions and cultures worldwide.
Now show your students the following performance of Amiri Baraka’s poem, “I Am.” As your students are watching, ask them to think of the poet’s take, attitude, or opinion toward the concept of “Western Civilization.” Then briefly discuss the piece.
Ask your students to choose one subject, lesson, idea, concept, etc. that is (or was) taught in public schools that they disagree with. Then ask them to jot down all the reasons why they find it offensive, controversial, problematic, etc.
Have your students write a poem similar in sentiment to “I Am” in which they write about something in the school system that they feel needs to be addressed or overhauled.
When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.
Area of Focus: Various
This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one.
Have your students read the following article. Then simply have them summarize its content. What is DeSantis proposing? Why? What potential implications are people concerned about?
Now show your students the following performance of Amiri Baraka’s poem, “I Am.” As your students are watching, ask them to think of the poet’s take, attitude, or opinion toward the concept of “Western Civilization.”
Ask your students to open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, your students are going to look at Amiri Baraka’s poem and discuss how it rebukes the concept of “Western Civilization.” When you’ve gone through the directions, give your students time to work on the assignment.
When your students are done, ask them to share their responses with the larger group. In what ways does Baraka attempt to dismantle the concept of Western Civilization?
- Education Formal / Informal
- Race / Ethnicity / Racism
- Social Movements / Protest
- Figurative Language
- Selection of Detail
- Structure (Syntax)
- Racism or Racial Slurs