Op-ed #1: The Annual Black History Month Debate: Some Columnists Upset by Idea of Designated Time

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Handout #21 – Summarizing and Comparing Op-Eds

OP-ED #1:

The Annual Black History Month Debate: Some Columnists Upset by Idea of Designated Time

Richard Prince | February 16, 2005 | The Maynard Institute

The annual Black History Month debate is under way over whether African Americans, instead of reveling in the month, should be insulted. (1)
Opinion #1: John Wiley Price, the only black county commissioner in Dallas, says he no longer makes public appearances during Black History Month. "I'm not going to be, as the kids say, 'pimped' during the month of February'" and ignored the rest of the year. (2)
“If speakers do not choose their venues carefully, Black History Month lectures can become 'kinds of performances. They are not necessarily intended to solve problems,' said a professor of African American Studies at Columbia University. They're enlightening and interesting. It's enlightened entertainment, which is not a bad thing.” (3)
Opinion #2: This year, a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer said, "Black History Month has become a nuisance, and I want to blow it up.” (4)
"Then, I want it to be rebuild it as part of mainstream thought, and not have it treated as it is today—a set-aside every year in February, where we gratuitously highlight the many talents and accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans to American culture and society." (4)
Opinion #3: Others have taken different approaches:
A writer for BlackAmericaWeb.com said, “Let's continue the February focus on black history, yet understand that black history is a year-round exploration. Some people get this. Many others need to get it.” (5)
“Second, and this is a memo to black folk: Protect the historical integrity of Black History Month. February has become 'a corporate holiday, a way for corporations and museums, and the U.S. Postal Service to declare they're multicultural and racially sensitive. I'm fine with well-intentioned corporate interest, but troubled if we stand by and let the rigor or richness get watered down or erased from our story by others.” (6)
Opinion #4: In spite of all these criticisms, some reporters are still very much in favor of having a month set aside for Black History. One columnist wrote:
"First, 'they' didn't want us to know our history at all. Then, 'they' didn't want us to celebrate for a week. "'They' still can't understand why we expanded it to celebrate for a month. Now 'they' have 'us' questioning ourselves, figuring if 'we' kill it, 'they' won't have to. (7)
"Commemorating it gave institutional America a way to package it that was not previously done: in curricula, in museum programming, in the publishing schedules of the major book houses, on preachers' agendas. (See how it has spawned others: March is now Women's History Month.) (8)
“There's a good argument for expanding the discussion and recognizing our history beyond the 28 days of February: the most enlightened individuals and institutions already do this. However, I doubt that 'eliminating' the commemoration would yield that result for the institutions." (9)

Questions on Op-Ed #1:

  1. What is the main purpose of this op-ed?

  2. Summarize each of the 4 opinions in 1-2 sentences.

  3. Which opinion do you MOST agree with?

  4. Write 3 sentences about why you most agree with that opinion.

OP-ED #2: Pride and prejudice ; Black History Month stresses separateness

by Suzanne Fields | February 28, 2002 | The Washington Times

You may remember kindergarten, when your biggest problem was how to color inside the lines, or whether to choose the rock, flower or shell to take to "show and tell." Telling time by where the hands were was hardest of all. (1)

Be glad you've moved on. Now the tykes must carry the burdens of black history and injustices past. Not everyone survives Black History Month equally. (2)
In a public school in the nation's capital, for example, children in one pre-kindergarten class listened to a popular story about a slave family in the Deep South. The daddy in the story was about to be sold and his children were terrified: "What will happen to us when Daddy goes away?" The family decides to take the underground railway north. They escape to freedom, but with lots of fears and frights along the way. (3)
One of the black children in the class, age 4, with the same name as a little boy in the story, didn't hear the story as heroic at all. He became frightened and angry. When he got home from kindergarten he told his mom he wanted to change the color of his skin. (4)
"What color do you want to be?" she asked. (5)
"I want to be white." (6)
His mom, unaware of the story, first thought he had been the victim of a racial slur. Not until he woke out of a nightmare screaming, "I don't want to be black," did he tell her about the story. "It ignited fears of abandonment and anxiety over black identity," she says. "He thought he could be kidnapped and become a slave. He screamed that he didn't want to play in the sun anymore, he didn't want to get any darker." (7)
Obviously, the child was too young to absorb the heroism of the family's flight to freedom as related by his white teacher, who instructed a complaining parent that "we must teach the truth." (When one mother asked when she would teach the 4-year-olds about the Holocaust the teacher merely gave her a grim expression and said nothing.) Unfortunately, the little boy learned only that being black meant trouble. This is the trouble that many black parents have with Black History Month. (8)
A new book by a black writer named Ellis Close takes a sharp and refreshing exception to the notion that nurturing victimhood is the route to success. His title, "The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America," is ironic, but suggests a direction away from the victim mentality. (9)
Ellis Close, the author, even pokes fun at Black History Month. He tells an audience at the Martin Luther King Public Library in Washington that they should learn to use Black History Month more effectively: If a cop tries to profile you in February, "tell him he has to wait until March." Naturally not everybody finds the joke funny. (10)
Ellis Close acknowledges the paradoxes of being black, but seeks to inspire in a new way, looking ahead at black potential rather than nurturing past grievances over slavery and the oppression of the past. He articulates what he calls hard truths: "Complain all you like about the raw deal you have gotten in life, but don't expect those complaints to get you anywhere ... America likes winners." Or this: "Recognize that being true to yourself is not the same as being true to a stupid stereotype." (11)
He profiles successful black men who open themselves up to "unprecedented possibilities." One is a grand master of chess. Another is the first black to head a Fortune 500 company. Still another runs a boarding school for blacks that offers traditional academics and traditional values, where you can't fall back on victim rationalizations. Hard work and reading good books work. (12)
Is he articulating an actual switch in black attitudes? Not likely. The black leadership continues to emphasize what America can do for blacks rather than what blacks can do for themselves - or for their country. That's too bad, because white America has turned its back on its racist past, eager to make up for old sins, and cheers black success. (13)
Black History Month, which could inspire white as well as black, has come to emphasize separateness, difference and prejudice, cultivating resentment of the past, rather than pride in progress toward the ideal we all can share. You don't have to be a 4-year-old to get the wrong message. (14)
***Suzanne Fields, a columnist for The Washington Times, is nationally syndicated.

Questions on Op-Ed #2:
1. What was the author’s reason for telling the story about the kindergartener at the beginning of the article?
2. Why is the author of this article criticizing Black History Month?
3. Reread paragraph 9. What do you think the author means by the “victim mentality”? Based on the title of the book by Ellis Close, how do you think Ellis Close’s approach to Black History is different than the “victim mentality”?
4. What does the author of this article suggest that Black History Month SHOULD focus on and what does she want to stop focusing on?
5. Do you think that the author is correct in saying that we should change the focus of Black History Month or is there a value in the things that she wants to stop focusing on?

OP-ED #3: Make every month Black History Month
By Bill Russell |  February 8, 2005 | The Boston Globe

I OFTEN WONDER how many people ask themselves, "Do we really need a Black History Month?" Although it seems inconceivable in this day and age, a great number of people still exist who do not believe there should be an entire month devoted to African-American culture. By questioning the relevance of Black History Month, people are questioning the value of African-Americans' contributions to society and their accomplishments throughout the years. (1)
Although America has come a long way, I do not think it is a stretch to believe that many people believe African-Americans have not contributed enough to justify their own month. (2)
Making matters more complicated is the reality that our African-American youths do not recognize the importance of their history. We lack sufficient teaching of the rich contributions African-Americans have made to our country's growth, prosperity, and evolution. (3)
Black History Month is an effective catalyst, an invitation to examine and reflect upon the achievements of African-Americans. The time set aside for this reflection is brief, but its value lies in its ability to capture people's attention and offer insights that can last a lifetime. (4)
My parents taught me many lessons when I was growing up. One of the most important was about respect. Respect comes from enlightenment, and enlightenment springs from education. We cannot expect the world to fully accept black history until people are properly educated on its importance to the world. (5)
Despite the fact that Black Heritage Month began in 1926 (as Negro History Week) our schools have fundamentally ignored the contributions African-Americans have made to world civilization. It was not until Black History Month became a month long school-focused event in 1976 that it started receiving its proper recognition. (6)
Myths and stereotypes of blacks were perpetuated in our educational institutions. I remember in fifth grade, during our required daily hour of reading, a teacher recommended a book that left a lasting impression on me. The theme of the book suggested that slaves were better off being slaves in the South than they were being free in Africa. Even as a 10-year-old, I was stunned that such a falsehood would be foisted upon children in a classroom. (7)
Although this episode occurred more than 60 years ago and strides have been made in updating curriculums to reflect reality, much needs to be done to fully educate our youth on black history. African-American education is something that should not be limited to just teaching about heroes and holidays. Even the civil rights movement has been reduced to an emotional eruption of saintly African-Americans led by a dozen inspired leaders rather than taught as an extraordinarily complex, persistent, intellectually driven social movement. (8)
I believe in Black History Month as a year-round commitment to understanding and open-mindedness that can be applied to all aspects of life. I applaud the teachers who are doing a heroic job in educating our youth about accepting the differences of people as a pathway to see the strengths and power of inclusion. (9)
It is important that we realize that education is an ongoing process, and we can never learn enough. Enlightenment needs to occur outside the classroom as well, and we are getting there thanks to a growing number of business leaders with the resources, commitment, and inspiration to make a difference. (10)
In the end, Black History Month, like any other celebration of learning, should be embraced as a reflective time when our drive for more knowledge needs to influence our actions. There is an old African saying that I remember hearing when I first went to Liberia in 1959: "Know your history and you'll always be wise." I ask you all to take advantage of this month and enrich your mind with the history of African-Americans. (11)
Bill Russell was the 1st black head coach in professional sports.

Questions on Op-Ed #3:

1. What does Russell mean when he calls Black History Month a “catalyst” in paragraph #4?
2. In your own words, what is Russell saying in paragraph #5? What does he mean when he says that respect comes from enlightenment which comes from education?
3. How do you think Russell would respond to opinion #1 in Op-Ed #2? (HINT: Reread paragraphs 5-6.)

Lesson Plan: February 29, 2008 – Black History & Research Unit (9th Comp.)

Text: 3 Op-Eds about how we celebrate Black History Month
Objective 1: practice summarizing paragraphs from opinion pieces. (4.03a)

Objective 2: practice using notes to help them compare and contrast multiple sources of information. (5.01f, 5.03h, 5.03j)

Objective 3: form opinions using multiple sources and articulate/defend them. (3.01a-e: examine controversial issue by reflecting on initial personal response, summarizing “data”, develop framework for investigation, organize data + personal response into argument, present argument)

Day 1 (40 minutes) – Introduction to Op-Eds, Summarizing/Outlining Op-Eds, and Reading Op-Ed #1


Project two paragraphs on the board. Paragraph 1 = factual report. Paragraph 2 = opinion. Under the paragraphs, the questions:

  1. Which paragraph is more persuasive/effective in getting you to believe its main point? What specific details, words, or sentences make it effective?

  2. Which paragraph seems more believable? What about it makes it seem believable?

  • Example: the scientifically proven effects of eating red meat versus someone’s opinion on why it is great OR the scientifically proven effects of eating fast food versus someone’s opinion)

  • Paragraph 1 should be dry and include several facts. Paragraph 2 should be eloquent and persuasive but include no facts, only opinions.

Key Point: Op-Eds are pieces of writing that express someone’s opinion. In some ways, they have a bigger affect on us than simply hearing facts. But we have to be careful. (Open to class to explain why and discuss bias.)

INM of Op-Eds Discussion:

  • Introduce the term “Op-Ed”  opinion editorial

  • How is it different than a newspaper article? (It includes opinions, not just facts.)

  • How should the way that we read an op-ed be different than the way we read a newspaper article? (Be aware of potential biases.)

  • How should we summarize? (Look for facts – numbers and proper nouns – capital letters – write down what and why!)

GP of Op-Eds:

Write answers to questions on the board. Read the op-ed twice before beginning to discuss.

  1. What is the main purpose of this op-ed?

  2. Summarize each of the 4 opinions in 1-2 sentences. (Write summaries on board for students to copy outline of article into their notes.)

  3. Which opinion do you MOST agree with?

  4. Write 3 sentences about why you most agree with that opinion.

Day 2 (70 minutes) – Using notes/outlining to compare Op-Eds #2-3

Review Op-Ed #1:

  • What is an op-ed?(Opinion-Editorial.)

  • How is it different than a newspaper article? (It includes opinions, not just facts.)

  • How should the way that we read an op-ed be different than the way we read a newspaper article? (Be aware of potential biases.)

  • What were the opinions in yesterday’s op-ed? (Use homework to summarize.)

Begin Op-Ed #2-3

  1. Read Op-Ed #2 aloud and summarize.

  2. Answer comprehension and thought questions at the end of the article.

  3. Discuss as a class how these opinions compare to the opinions found in Op-Ed #1.

Key Points:

    • First establish WHAT the overall opinion is (BHM should focus on PRIDE of accomplishment more than victimization in the past.)

    • Then analyze HOW the author support or proves this opinion – What does she use to support it (the opening story, the recently published book.) Why does she use this evidence in particular?

    • Finally, what do YOU think the focus should be – pride or past struggle? Defend your arguments. Try to see both sides!

  1. Read Op-Ed #3 aloud.

  2. Answer comprehension and thought questions at the end of the article.

  3. Discuss as a class how these opinions compare to the opinions found in Op-Ed #2 and #1.

Key Points:

  • First establish WHAT the overall opinion is (BHM is a good catalyst for thinking and this is important BECAUSE it will help us be wise, open-minded, and take action to change the world.)

  • Analyze HOW the author supports or proves this opinion – What does he use to illustrate the importance of a month as a catalyst? (the story he was given as a child) Why does he use this particular story?

  • Finally, compare this opinion to the opinions you heard in Op-Ed #1 about how we do NOT need a single month and why a single month is bad. Who do you now agree with?

  • Also, do you think this author would agree or disagree with the opinion in Op-Ed #2? Is talking about suffering important to him, in other words?

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