Kipling is HARD

March 29, 2005

I gave the kids something that I thought would be both fairly easy to do and fairly challenging in terms of their preconceptions and assumptions. It was a good exercise, and I think I will use it again next year, but I was surprised at their reading abilities this time around.

I gave them three poems by Kipling: Gunga Din, Our Lady of the Snows, and White Man's Burden, with The Ballad of East and West as an optional reading, and then asked them to write 200 words on "how does Kipling use race?"

I learned all manner of new things from the students:
Gunga Din was an African American slave (not)
Our Lady of the Snows was a middle-class housewife taking advantage of Native Americans (not)
Kipling was a racist (depends on your definition of racist)
Kipling was a racialist (yep)
White Man's Burden was satire (one common reading, I disagree with it)
White Man's Burden was anti-colonial (as above)

Or, to be fair to the kids, what I learned was that Kipling is not as transparent as I thought he was, that American students have spent a lot of time reading anti-racist material focusing on American Negro Slavery, and that most of the kids did not take the time to read the poems carefully.

I think I might add a few words of guidance to the document web pages next time around. (The links above are to the exact version the kids got.) While I like the pedagogy of giving the kids a primary document and making them work out its place in context, most of the students are lazy/overworked, and I wonder if the average student would get more out of the assignment with a little more hand-holding.

Posted by Red Ted at March 29, 2005 08:19 AM | TrackBack