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Urban Youth and Reader Response 1

Inner-City Students and Reader Response: The realities of urban youth experience and the consolatory nature of reader response-based learning with Young dult literature

!artin Scho"et

Teaching #iterature for Young dults$ C%T &'( #a)onne *ol+gren ,ctober '1$ -(11

Urban Youth and Reader Response Inner-City Students and Reader Response: The realities of urban youth experience and the consolatory nature of reader response-based learning with Young dult literature In a world of increasing .iolence and econo+ic disparities$ the de+ographic of people who bear the brunt of exposure to these trau+atic e.ents in society are the sa+e people who are an age +ost psychologically at ris" of e+otional and social i+pair+ent and easily rendered apathetic about solutions to the causes$ due to the +ounting depressi.e trials of childhood/ The hopeless feeling during childhood$ specifically the teenage years$ is a pheno+enon a large +a0ority of people can recall experiencing and o.erco+ing during a ti+e when they also had to +anage school and de.elop the s"ills for learning/ 1ut what happens if this recurring the+e is co+pounded with struggling to find dinner e.ery night$ coping with the +urder of a fa+ily +e+ber$ or the 0ailing of a parental figure2 Unfortunately$ these are the realities of +any innercity students who do ha.e to contend with these hardships$ and +ore$ present in the e.eryday culture of the urban en.iron+ent/ 3or a teacher to atte+pt educating distressful students$ s4he needs to allow the+ the opportunity of connecting with +aterial e+pathetic to their plights and a +ethod of co++unicating understanding to inspire and pro.ide +oti.ation for exploring all facets of learning/ particularly useful tool to help students begin o.erco+ing personal issues

halting the educational process is the use of reader response-based criticis+ to approach the analysis of literature5a daunting tas" for +ost students$ as it re+ains/ Reader response theory is a critical approach to reading that is a transactional process between the reader and the text$ wherein interpreti.e acti.ities by the reader$ rather than an author6s intention$ deter+ines a text6s significance and aesthetic .alue for that indi.idual 78oldstein$ -((9$ -nd :d/;/ <ith inner-city youth$ reader response-based criticis+ is a +eans to foster the process of which reaches the ends

Urban Youth and Reader Response ' of critical reading and writing s"ills because the consolatory nature of reader-centered analysis allows destitute students to e+pathi=e with literature in a co+fortable +anner$ eli+inate their fearful literacy barriers to generate confidence and interest in reading$ and encourage the exa+ination of their own personal experiences and hardships through co+position$ pro.iding new a.enues towards con>uering each aspect of literacy/ !any people experience the inner city only by association and$ as they dri.e bac" to the safety of suburbia$ ne.er fully grasp the harsh realities +any youth struggle against on a daily basis/ <ashington Uni.ersity study conducted in the St/ #ouis area found ?the real-life

.iolence that +any inner-city teens face daily in their ho+es$ schools and neighborhoods influenced their beha.iors$@ and ?AtBhe +ore .iolence that the youths had been exposed to$ the +ore li"ely they were to be .iolent the+sel.es$ to +isuse drugs and alcohol and to lose hope for the future@ 7:.erding$ 1CC9--((';/ 3indings of the study report that se.enty-fi.e percent of the students had heard or seen a shooting$ fifty percent had seen a "illing or serious beating$ fifty percent reported that +urders occurred in their neighborhood$ and thirty-nine percent had a friend beaten or "illed/ :>ually as disheartening is the struggle for +any inner-city youth to find decent +eals outside of school/ study in Toronto$ Canada conducted by the Uni.ersity of

Toronto was ?underta"en to characteri=e nutritional .ulnerability a+ongDho+eless youth in downtown Toronto@ and found that at least ten percent of ho+eless youth in their de+ographic were sca.enging food fro+ garbage and other sources 7Tarasu"$ et/ al$ -((9$ 1;/ These staggering figures represent +any of the issues why inner-city youth struggle with the basic re>uire+ents of their schooling/ The perceptions of the+sel.es as being unable to o.erco+e the ?failure@ of their surroundings breeds a le.el of learned helplessness that is ulti+ately created by their co++unities and is of no fault of their own 7)acca % )acca$ -((9$ E9;/

Urban Youth and Reader Response & Fr/ Richard and Go nne )acca suggest that students who ha.e de.eloped learned helplessness ?usually sabotage their efforts to read or write by belie.ing that they can6t succeed at tas"s that re>uire literate beha.ior@ 7-((9$ E9;/ The +erit of this state+ent holds true$ as it is clear that inner-city youth are +ore cogni=ant of their concern for daily sur.i.al and of +i+ic"ing social beha.iors present in their neighborhoods than they are about how well they can read/ In +any cases$ reading does not see+ to constitute their sur.i.al on a daily basis$ so other for+s of 7possibly illegal; resources are sought out to sur.i.e the present ti+e5a precarious lifestyle for de.eloping teens/ Counteracting this learned helplessness is of the ut+ost i+portance and is a step in the reco.ery process$ which in.ol.es healing the +ental health of students with deep self-exa+ination and introspection$ through the use of literature and writing$ in an effort to gain personal e+power+ent and the tools for learning/ The classroo+ is a space where in.aluable ti+e can be spent repairing the da+age done by trau+atic e.ents in areas where few +ental health resources are a.ailable/ The <ashington Uni.ersity study also disco.ered ?existing syste+s are not identifying the "idsH needsI for +ental health resources$ but ?AtBhose pro.iders who do "now about the +ental health proble+s of teen clients tell AresearchersB that there are few resources to pro.ide ser.ices@ 7:.erding$ 1CC9--((';/ These teens do$ howe.er$ fre>uent a place e.ery day where inter.ention can be i+ple+ented to pro.ide free access for counseling and a consolatory at+osphere/ ny type of class that deals with literary analysis is also a class with opportunities to address +ental$ cultural$ and social issues in a profoundly personal +anner with reader response-based criticis+/ Reader response-based critical theory e+phasi=es ?the way a wor" of literature is understood depends upon the interaction between reader and text and upon the presu+ably uni>ue personal +eaning that readers create for the+sel.es@ 7Carey-<ebb$ -((1$ E;/

Urban Youth and Reader Response 9 This relati.ely new theory is being practiced and studied in a nu+ber of applications but is ha.ing surprising positi.e results with urban youth/ The International Reading ssociation sponsored a study conducted by <anda 1roo"s of Te+ple Uni.ersity 7-((J; that ?explored how a +iddle school case-study class read and responded to Kculturally conscious6 frican +erican childrenHs boo"s@ in an effort to in.estigate whether or not ?urban youth AcouldB use culture and frican +erican textual features to de.elop literary understandings@ by ?using se.eral theories fro+ reader response criticis+@ 7pg/ 1;/ Lart of the findings state that ?participants acti.ely AusedB cultural "nowledge$ experiences$ and frican +erican textual features to de.elop literary understandings$@ which ?AsuggestsB that culturally influenced textual features ha.e the potential to beco+e i+portant pedagogical tools for literacy instruction@ and consolatory instru+ents 71roo"s$ -((J$ 1;/ The interaction in.ol.ed with reader response criticis+ is inherent and can e.en be a +oti.ating factor for students who +ight not be afflicted with as drastic of personal situations as other students but who are 0ust generally apathetic towards school because it is not considered a .aluable asset in lower socioecono+ic co++unities/ Content areas li"e :nglish and #anguage rts are settings where nu+erous applications of reader response style acti.ities can be utili=ed to effect positi.e growths in self-estee+$ +orality$ and learning/ The +ost rudi+entary practice to incorporate reader response criticis+ in an inner-city classroo+ is choosing text +aterial that reflects the social situations of the students and exploring co+parable experiences found in the boo" to the real life of the students/ Fepending on the le.el of co+fort$ this can be integrated into s+all group discussions or anony+ously through the use of online discussion boards or indi.idual assign+ents/ piece of

Young dult literature that +ight be easily relatable to a wide cross section of inner-city youth is

Urban Youth and Reader Response J the no.el Monster$ by <alter Fean !yers/ <ith the unfortunate reality that +any inner-city youth are exposed to or are aware of the wor"ings and entrap+ents of the legal syste+$ a text li"e Monster$ wherein the protagonist tries to +aintain his innocence in a curiously un0ust +urder trial$ lends itself to engaging inner-city students because it is what +any of the+ "now/ In addition to this$ a teacher could use an autobiographical no.el li"e Leon’s Story$ the setting of which ta"es place in the Gi+ Crow south and during the Ci.il Rights !o.e+ent in the J(s$ to ha.e students write response-based reflections about how they would +anage the tribulations of the characters in that text/ If urban youth ha.e so+ething they ha.e so+e insight in to and "nowledge of$ they can slowly begin to i++erse the+sel.es in the literature +ore and +ore$ e.entually beco+ing confident with .enturing to other areas of :nglish/ Loetry$ an area of :nglish courses that is co++only despised by +ost secondary students$ is an easily accessible sub0ect with inner-city students because of the pre.alence of and engage+ent with rap +usic in urban co++unities/ The popularity of rap +usic in inner-city areas is a .eritably untapped gold +ine of +ulticultural studies for all bac"grounds of urban youth in education and should be used as such/ song such as !os Fef6s ?!athe+atics@ is a

perfect trac" to teach lessons of rhy+e sche+e$ poetic +etering$ +etaphor$ si+ile$ and a list of other literary ele+ents if the teacher is willing to search the .ast a+ount of >uality records a.ailable/ si+ple excerpt fro+ the song re.eals +uch about the power of this particular style

of rhy+e within the so+eti+es see+ingly powerless inner-city co++unities$ engages the dar"er s"inned toned listener with relatable race issues$ repudiates stereotypical notions of the cherished hip-hop culture$ ta"es 0abs at society with social co++entary about the pri.ati=ed prison syste+$ pro.ides an allusion to an inspirational +inority leader$ and incorporates co++only held beliefs about the wor"ing-class poor being a dangerous place to drea+ because the lac" of opportunity

Urban Youth and Reader Response E al+ost see+s to lead ine.itably to heartbrea" in these areas: The body of +y text possess extra strength Lower-lift the powerless up out of this towering inferno !y in" so hot it burn through the 0ournal IH+ blac"er than +idnight on 1roadway and !yrtle *ip-*op passed all your tall social hurdles #i"e the nationwide pro0ects$ prison-industry co+plex <or"ing-class poor: better "eep your alar+ set Streets too loud to e.er hear freedo+ ring Say e.acuate your sleep$ itHs dangerous to drea+/ s llen Carey-<ebb suggests in Literature & Lives$ rap6s reputation for glorifying .iolence and +isogyny should be carefully consideredM howe.er$ characteri=ing all rap +usic the sa+e and lu+ping it into the sa+e category without recogni=ing the rele.ant social criti>ues +ade by so+e artists is a +ista"e itself/ ,f course$ reader response-based criticis+ is not without its faults or critics of the theory/ s llen Carey-<ebb also suggests in Literature & Lives 7-((1;$ ?an exclusi.ely reader response approach does ha.e li+itations@ and the elicitation of uni>ue responses or the disco.ery of profound internal recognitions by students +ight be highly idealistic conclusions since the effect of the literature is not guaranteed for e.ery student 7pg/ E;/ Reader response also tends not to be .ery helpful when it co+es to the technical aspect of :nglish courses$ including structure and content$ choosing a+ong ?great@ wor"s$ and the consideration of the canon a+ong +any other things 7Carey-<ebb$ -((1$ E;/ Certainly$ if i+ple+ented$ reader response should not be the end all be all to the analysis of literature in classroo+s/ Sparing use of reader-centered analysis will best help counteract the li+itations of it/ <ith inner-city youth$ reader response-based criticis+ is a +eans to foster the process of which reaches the ends of critical reading and writing s"ills because the consolatory nature of reader-centered analysis allows destitute students to e+pathi=e with literature in a co+fortable

Urban Youth and Reader Response N +anner$ eli+inate their fearful literacy barriers to generate confidence and interest in reading$ and encourage the exa+ination of their own personal experiences and hardships through co+position$ pro.iding new a.enues towards con>uering each aspect of literacy/ It is up to the teacher to de.elop e>ually creati.e and engaging acti.ities that e.o"e such a response$ warranting the use of the theory/ 1ut$ as warned$ teachers should also not confine the+sel.es to the sole use of reader response criticis+ because the li+itations can enact stalled progress/ t any rate$ reader response criticis+ should be used in inner-city classroo+s to facilitate so+e sort of exercise that ?turns .icti+s into sur.i.ors AandB witnesses into agents of change@ 7Carey<ebb$ -((1$ 1'';/

Urban Youth and Reader Response C References 1roo"s$ </ 7-((J$ Guly4 ugust4Septe+ber;/ Reading Representations of The+sel.es: Urban Youth Use Culture and frican +erican Textual 3eatures to Fe.elop #iterary Understandings/ Reading Research Ouarterly$ &17';$ 'E-P'C-/ doi: 1(/19CN4RRO/&1/'/& Carey-<ebb$ llen 7-((1;/ #iterature % #i.es/ Urbana$ Illinois: Qational Council of Teachers of :nglish/ :.erding$ 8/ 71CC9--((';/ Study finds inner-city teens influenced by real-life .iolence/ AThis page is fro+ an archi.e of Record articles fro+ 1CC9--(('/ Llease .isit news/wustl/eduB/ Retrie.ed fro+ http:44wupa/wustl/edu4recordRarchi.e41CC94(N--&-C94EN(E/ht+l 8oldstein$ L/ 7-((9;/ Reader Response Theory and Criticis+/ The Johns Hopkins Guide To Literary Theory & Criticism$ Second :dition/ !yers$ </ F/ 71CCC;/ Monster/ *arperCollins/ S+ith$ F/$ !artin$ C/ 71CCC;/ !athe+atics ARecorded by !os Fef 7F/ S+ith;B/ Black on Both Sides A1-@ single$ CF single$ !axi-singleB/ Qew Yor": Raw"us Records/ Tarasu"$ )/$ Fachner$ Q/$ #i$ G/ 7 ugust 1$ -((9;/ *o+eless Youth in Toronto re Qutritionally )ulnerable A bstractB/ The Journal of utrition$ 1'9$ 1C-J-1C''/ Tillage$ #/ </ 7Septe+ber -(((;/ Leon’s Story/ 3arrar$ Straus and 8iroux/ )acca$ R/ T/ % )acca$ G/ #/ 7-((9;/ Content !rea "eadin#$ L%teracy and Learnin# !cross the Curriculum/ 1oston: Learson/