Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reading Robinson Crusoe in a Public School 4th Grade

I am currently reading aloud Robinson Crusoe to my public school fourth grade class. While the "reading level" of this book is much too high for my students, they can follow the plot, they like the plot (last year's students listed it as one of their favorite things we did during the year), they get exposed to well-written sentences and a lot of new vocabulary, they finish something "hard," they may someday encounter this book again and be undaunted, the list goes on...

One night last week, I realized the word "negro" - though it wasn't a problem last year - was going to pose a problem this year. And I was right.
While I was in view of the Moor that was swimming, I stood out directly to sea with the boat, rather stretching to windward, that they might think me gone towards the Straits’ mouth (as indeed any one that had been in their wits must have been supposed to do): for who would have supposed we were sailed on to the southward, to the truly Barbarian coast, where whole nations of negroes were sure to surround us with their canoes and destroy us; where we could not go on shore but we should be devoured by savage beasts, or more merciless savages of human kind.
Last year, I didn't have a student yelling the "n" word at the rest of my students or calling me a racist in front of my class. This year I do.

(By the way, I was "racist" because I told a student not to crawl under his desk to go to the sharpened pencil cup, and instead ask the person sitting next to him if he could please scoot in his chair a little so he could pass. This student's response was to exclaim that I was racist. Moments earlier, a different boy - the boy sitting on the other side of the child who called me a racist - had crawled under his desk, and when I told this boy not to crawl under his desk and instead go around, his response - the appropriate response - was, "Okay.")

Before I read the above paragraph of Robinson Crusoe, I projected the United Negro College Fund's homepage on my whiteboard. I explained that the United Negro College Fund is an organization that helps black students go to college. I also said that the word negro is different than the "n" word we don't use.

And then he said it out loud. Loudly. Twice.


"That's racist!" he yelled.

I should have ignored it. I could have ignored it. But I was angry. Every year - this is Year 11 - students say, "That's racist," in regard to something that isn't, and I whip out a dictionary and read the definition of "racism" and try to - you know - educate them. Today, I projected the definition on the whiteboard and was just about to discuss the words in the definition when he started calling the girl who sits across from him fat and ugly and telling her she had a big head and needed to get her hair done because it was ugly.

These are the some of the challenges of trying to "CM" a public-school classroom.
Today, I read students the very exciting part in which Robinson and Xury kill the lion:

Xury, looked frighted, and said, “Me kill! he eat me at one mouth!”—one mouthful he meant.  However, I said no more to the boy, but bade him lie still, and I took our biggest gun, which was almost musket-bore, and loaded it with a good charge of powder, and with two slugs, and laid it down; then I loaded another gun with two bullets; and the third (for we had three pieces) I loaded with five smaller bullets.  I took the best aim I could with the first piece to have shot him in the head, but he lay so with his leg raised a little above his nose, that the slugs hit his leg about the knee and broke the bone.  He started up, growling at first, but finding his leg broken, fell down again; and then got upon three legs, and gave the most hideous roar that ever I heard.  I was a little surprised that I had not hit him on the head; however, I took up the second piece immediately, and though he began to move off, fired again, and shot him in the head, and had the pleasure to see him drop and make but little noise, but lie struggling for life.  Then Xury took heart, and would have me let him go on shore.  “Well, go,” said I: so the boy jumped into the water and taking a little gun in one hand, swam to shore with the other hand, and coming close to the creature, put the muzzle of the piece to his ear, and shot him in the head again, which despatched him quite.
 One student was absent.

This is a site that has leveled each chapter of Robinson Crusoe. For example, Chapter 1 is listed as 7.9, Chapter 6 is listed as 6.6, and Chapter 12 is listed as 9.3. The site lists the book (as a whole) as a grade 12+ reading level.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me so happy that you are reading this to them! My current 4th grader loves this book... :)