Letter: Don’t shy from discussion

Feb. 08, 2014 @ 11:45 PM

To the editor:

Recently, I read about a decision by a North Carolina school administration to pull from its syllabus an assignment based solely upon the complaint of a parent. The assignment to a class of eighth-graders was to imagine being a slave, to write an essay about it and to discuss the experience. The decision saddened me. Some of the particulars — who, where — are less important than the portent of that decision.

I agree with those who believe we need a national conversation on race. Who better to start with than 13- and 14-year-olds, mature enough to manage in-depth thinking without the burden of calcified attitudes? Their tool? The limitless possibilities of the imagination. It could have enabled these youngsters, journeying toward adulthood, the opportunity to avoid minds closed to understanding — “it had nothing to do with me,” “it happened over 150 years ago” or “get over it.” Translation: “I’m not going to think about it.”

In my writing, I depend upon imagination as the primary tool of exploration. The Internet can only take me so far. Constructing a recent story, I tried to imagine the life of a slave. I found the challenge even more emotionally daunting than viewing “12 Years a Slave.” As I sank into the hopeless sameness of each day, able to count on nothing, susceptible to the whims of someone who owned me, I felt I was slipping into darkness, paralyzed with frightening emotions. In other words, imagination opened a world that might otherwise have eluded me, deluded me into thinking I knew more than I did.

With the aforementioned eighth-graders, the imagining begun and essays written, what remained was the discussion when the assignment was quashed.

The result — an opportunity lost, the conversation once again side-stepped.

Bob McCarthy