The three lessons I have included attempt to show three slightly different ways in which the poetry from this unit can be integrated into the curriculum.
“Aunt Jane Allen”
parched, satchel, scanned, bore, Ethiopia Subjects Involved: Reading, creative writing
Eighty year old Aunt Jane Allen has just died. She appears to have been a neighborhood fixture on State Street. The poet recalls her elderly form as she hobbled along the street trying to sell aprons from a basket she carried. He wonders if they have buried with her this basket of aprons which was so much a part of her. Of more importance, he asks if they have “buried/ with her the gentle worn Son that she gave to each of the/ seed of Ethiopia”.
To develop an appreciation of Aunt Jane Allen’s life as a positive neighborhood force.
To relate this understanding to neighborhood people who actually exist.
To speculate orally and/or in writing on Aunt Jane’s background.
The teacher will read the poem to the class. Discussion will bring out the meaning of vocabulary where necessary. Pupils will be given an opportunity to read the poem orally. Discussion will revolve around questions such as: Who was Aunt Jane Allen? What did she look like? What did she do? Does the poet like Aunt Jane? How do you know? Is she really his Aunt? Why is “Son” capitalized? What does “seed of Ethiopia” mean? Do you think there were many people at Aunt Jane’s funeral? Why? Will people remember her? Do you know or have you seen anyone who reminds you of Aunt Jane? Tell us about them. What do they give to you or to the neighborhood? What might Aunt Jane’s life have been like before she grew old? (A number of more specific questions could be used to motivate more detailed discussion here.) Is there anything people might do to give something positive back to people like Aunt Jane?
Pupils may then be given an opportunity to read the poem again.
Pupils might be asked to write a brief biography of Aunt Jane Allen, providing their own facts and dates.
Pupils could write a piece, pretending that Aunt Jane was telling people what it was like living in the neighborhood.
Reading the poem “Old Black Men”, by Georgia Douglas Johnson, could motivate pupils to think more deeply about how the backgrounds of old men from the neighborhood might be decidedly different from what they are now. Pupils might further speculate on the forces which influenced their lives.
“To Satch: or American Gothic”
Reading, art, social studies
The subject of this poem, Satchell Paige, was a pitcher in the Negro leagues during the same time that Babe Ruth played in the Majors. Until Jackie Robinson broke the “color line”, Paige was barred from joining teams in this all-white organization. Finally, in 1948, he was admitted to the American League when he joined the Cleveland Indians as the first black pitcher in the Majors. Though well past his prime, he pitched for the St. Louis Browns from 1951-1953. His exact age is subject to debate, and some say, though it might be an exaggeration, that he was close to seventy at the time. In 1971, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
This poem presents a vivid picture of Satchell’s final strikeout in front of God.
To develop an appreciation of Satchell Paige’s life.
To understand the obstacles faced by players in the Negro Leagues and to appreciate their skills and fortitude.
To provide pupils with the opportunity to illustrate the images presented in “To Satch”.
Pupils will either be provided with information or will research facts on the Negro leagues in general and Satchell Paige in particular. Pertinent discussion will follow, with appropriate reference made to Jackie Robinson, with whom students are more familiar.
The teacher will then read “To Satch”, after informing them that some said that Paige believed he would die while pitching. Pupils will then be given an opportunity to read the poem orally. There will not be much discussion of the poem’s content, because it is hoped that repeated oral readings will emphasize the visual images presented in the poem. Pupils will then be asked to provide an illustration, or possibly illustrations, to go with the poem. Upon completion of these pictures, pupils will be given a chance to share them, possibly with explanations and/or accompanied by an oral reading of the poem, depending upon pupil preference. These activities would probably best be accomplished in two separate sessions.
Pupils might be shown a copy of the painting, “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, and asked to discuss any connections they see between the poem’s alternative title “American Gothic” and the picture. It will also be necessary to develop the meaning of the word Gothic.
“I, Too Sing America”
Reading, oral expression, social studies
Ability to understand and appreciate the message of this poem, then and now.
Opportunity to evaluate progress that has been made since poem was written.
Ability to apply message of poem to themselves.
Ability to present poem orally, perhaps as part of a group presentation.
On the surface, this poem tells us that the darker brother is forced to eat in the kitchen when company comes. Rather than being discouraged, he laughs, eats and prepares for “tomorrow” when he will take his rightful place at the table where others will realize his worth and be ashamed.
Pupils will be guided to see that the poem delivers a powerful, yet positive message to African Americans of the 1920’s to strive toward achieving the power that will give them their rightful place in America. In varying degrees, the message is still applicable today.
The teacher will read the poem orally. Discussion will follow, revolving around questions such as the following: Why was the brother sent to the kitchen? How did he react? How else might he have reacted? Why will he be able to sit at the table in the future? Why won’t people dare reject him then? What will allow them to see how beautiful he is? Why will they be ashamed? Will all people feel this way? Why? This poem was written in the 1920’s. What was life like for African Americans then? How has it changed in the years since then? What is Langston Hughes saying to the African Americans of this time? Why does the poem begin and end with “I, Too Sing America”? Does the poem address people of today? Could it speak to people other than African Americans?
Pupils will then be given the opportunity to attempt a dramatic reading of the poem. The word “brother” can easily be switched to “sister” to accommodate female readers. In combination a boy and girl can say, “We, Too Sing America”, with each repeating the second line making appropriate gender changes. They then can divide the other sections, making all pronouns plural, ending with the last line said in unison. This makes a very effective piece for public presentation.