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1 An introduction to Ernest J.

Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying Introduction    In this lesson, students will be introduced to A Lesson Before Dying and author Ernest J. Gaines, as well as analyze artifacts from the Jim Crow era. 90 Minute Block English SOL 12.3 The student will read and analyze the development of literature. o c) Relate literary works and authors to major themes and issues of their eras. English SOL 12.7 The student will develop expository and informational writings. o a) Generate, gather, and organize ideas for writing. Cognitive Objectives    Students will link elements of Ernest Gaines’ life to his literary work. Students will examine and analyze racially charged artifacts from the Jim Crow era. Students will consider a potentially racist contemporary product and produce arguments as to why it should or should not be sold.

Materials and Advanced Preparation     Introductory PowerPoint Digital Projector Copies of assignment Cut up pieces of paper for opening exercise

Teaching and Learning Sequence Introduction/ Anticipatory Set (10 minutes)  I will write the title of the novel we will be studying on the board, A Lesson Before Dying. Ask if any of the students have ever played cranium; the exercise will be like one of the challenges in the game. The students will have to make up a one-sentence blurb of what A Lesson Before Dying might be about. They can work independently or with a partner. (example to put on the board: “A piano teacher helps a dying leukemia patient to see beauty in life through music.” After students have finished writing their responses, I will pull a few of them, add the true synopsis, shuffle them, and then read them to the students, asking students to pick the one they think is correct.

2   I will inform the students of the true synopsis, provide a few more particular details about the novel. I will inform them that before we begin reading the following class, we will learn about the author and the time period of the novel.

Lesson Development (75 minutes total:10 minutes for background info, 15 for analyzing the Jim Crow artifacts, 10 for coming up with individual ideas on Ghettopoly, 10 minutes discussing with a partner, 10 minutes half and half, 20 minutes together as a class )  I will begin the slideshow, starting with some facts about Gaines’ life: o He was born on a Louisiana plantation in 1933 during the Great Depression. o He was raised by his courageous Aunt Jefferson, perhaps the reason the hero of the novel carries the same surname. o Gaines worked in the fields digging potatoes, just like the schoolchildren in this novel. o At fifteen, his family moved to Vallejo, California where he discovered the public library, inspiring his love for literature and later passion for writing. o Many of his stories are based on memories from his own childhood. I will then move on to the literary and historical background of the novel: o While the novel takes place in the 1940’s, the novel was not written until 1993. o The story is fictional. However, it reflects the time period in a historically accurate way:  Racism is entrenched.  Jim Crow laws are in effect (continued until 1965)  “Separate but equal.” upheld by the Supreme court in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896  There is tension between educated and uneducated blacks, between light and dark-skinned blacks… I will hint at themes that will be addressed in the novel: o Racism: between blacks and whites; between light and dark-skinned o Obligation: obligation to family, to the community o Redemption: characters whose hearts and minds are changed. o What it means to be a hero: a more complex type of heroism than you see in comic books or blockbuster films o Captivity and Freedom: both in terms of the mind and the body Discussion will now shift to some items from the collection of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan. Students will be asked to look at these difficult items critically, trying to decipher the messages and the stereotypes that are communicated. o WHITES ONLY. COLORED. This is perhaps an artifact that you might think of immediately when you hear the words Jim Crow. But let’s really

3 think about it for a second, recognizing how a subtle difference in language can indicate a major change in meaning. I. SIGNS  There are three words. White. Only. Colored. Why doesn’t “only” follow colored? • “Only” highlights the fact that “separate but equal” is not true. If it simply said “White” and “Colored” a case could be made. However, the fact that “only” is only on the white sign shows. “Only” doesn’t need to follow “Colored” because no whites would ever choose to use that facility anyway.  NO. NO. NO. Two ethnicities, and dogs. The relationship is not so subtle. By association, blacks and Jews are dehumanized, being placed on the same level as animals. We will see that this very issue – that of equating a man to an animal – plays a central role in ALBD. II. IMAGES promoting racial stereotypes  TRIBAL TRIO: Who is the audience of this painting?  What facial feature is highlighted?  Whether or not the bones in their noses, their grass skirts, and their weapons are historically accurate, what do they suggest?  What about the tie, the bow, and the bowtie? What might they imply?  What about their faces? What are the differences between each of the figures?  MINSTREL MAKEUP  Who can tell me what these objects are? Makeup and a wig for a minstrel to wear.  The minstrel show was not limited to performances… Much like characters from cartoons today, characters from minstrel shows became mascots of various products  CREAM OF WHEAT  Can somebody read the text on the sign for me?  He doesn’t know the difference between what two things?  What DOES he know about Cream of Wheat?  Has anyone ever heard anyone say rastus before?  Rastus: A general term for a “happy black man” in minstrel shows. The name was used in advertisements for Cigars as well. Today it’s a highly offensive term.  Contemporary “Cream of Wheat” design.  Though they don’t refer to him as “Rastus” anymore, the image of him remains virtually unchanged today.  Think of other breakfast items… Do any come to mind that might have a similar origin?

4 AUNT JEMIMAwas also a character in minstrel shows before being trademarked for advertising.  JEMIMA AD: Look at the advertisement on the left. What is a major similarity between this advertisement and the Cream of Wheat cartoon?  COLLAGE of various Aunt Jemima’s through the years: do you notice much of a change? III. LIGHT SKINNED VERSUS DARK  SKIN BLEACHING  What you see what this is?  I previously mentioned a historical tension that A Lesson Before Dying will explore that relates to this item as well as the next. What might it be?  PRODUCTS TO FLATTEN HAIR, make black hair appear more white. Is this aesthetic/ this tendency still prevalent?  The final item from the collection is a contemporary: the board game Ghettopoly.  When do you think this was made? 2003  Description of differences from the Monopoly game (source: Wikipedia)  The four railroad properties are replaced by liquor stores. Other properties include a massage parlor, a peep show and a pawn shop.  The Community Chest and Chance squares become Ghetto Stash and Hustle squares, while taxation squares are replaced by police shakedown and carjacking squares.[1]  Instead of building houses and hotels, property owners can build crack houses and projects.  The seven game pieces include: a pimp, a ho, a 40 oz, a machine gun, a marijuana leaf, a crack rock, and a basketball.  Students will respond to a prompt based on the board game in written form.  Discuss the following: You are the manager of the national chain store. The president of the company decides that all stores must sell the new board game “Ghettopoly.” Would you would protest the president’s decision, or proceed to sell the game? Be sure to consider:  Does it make any difference whether the game was made today versus back during the Jim Crow Years?  Does it matter whether or not the creator of the game was black? 

5  Does it matter who the company is targeting when advertising the product? (i.e. who they expect to buy the game)

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I will inform students that they will receive a class grade on the assignment purely on observation: as long as students are on task and taking the subject seriously, they will receive a good grade. Students will start by recording ideas on their papers. They don’t have to be in complete sentences. After a few minutes, students will separate into pairs and discuss each others’ ideas. I will then poll the class and see how many people would protest the sale and how many would not. PLAN A: If the class is split fairly even and there is plenty of time remaining, I will have students on each side get together and gather their arguments. o I will aid each group in collecting all of their arguments and direct them to place their ideas in order of importance. o One student from each group will argue their case to the class. o I will ask students if anyone has changed their mind after the debate. PLAN B: If the class is lopsided or there is not much time remaining… o I will work together with the class to build the majority’s arguments on the board and organize them. o I will then do the same with the minority’s arguments.

Closure (5 minutes)  I will ask students why they think I had them do this exercise. o Started with the Jim Crow era artifacts to have them understand the nature and the extent of entrenched racism during the time that the novel takes place. o I had them work on the Ghettopoly exercise to demonstrate that issues of race continue to be a major issue today, making novel set in the 1940’s relevant to us, reading the book in 2011. o Remind students that we will begin reading the next class.

Homework  None

Formative Assessment  I will assess students through their analysis of the Jim Crow artifacts and of the time period in general, getting an idea of their prior knowledge. I will assess students as they work individually, in pairs, and as a part of a large group through observation and questioning during the Ghettopoly exercise.


Summative Assessment   I will give students a classwork grade based on their ability to remain on task and participate. Questions on the author’s background will be on a future quiz or test.

References   Jim Crow Museum Website, Hateful Things exhibit A Lesson Before Dying Introduction PowerPoint at (used as a basis for the biographical portion of my slideshow)

Appended Materials  Introduction/ Jim Crow Powerpoint