Urban Literature 2007

This course investigates the evolution of American attitudes and policies toward urban poverty during the 20th century. By studying the work of novelists and playwrights as well as social scientists, historians and journalists, students will develop their own understanding of the reasons for and consequences of our country’s inability to deal effectively with the problem of urban poverty.

This year, the course will include a six-week experiential learning unit at the William Paca Elementary School in West Baltimore. While visiting the Paca School, we will function as tutors and mentors for 5th graders as they prepare to take the annual MSA standardized tests in reading, writing and mathematics. We will also study the history of public schooling in America, read about the legal struggle to de-segregate our public schools and then the subsequent re-segregation of city schools during the 1970’s and 80’s. We will finally discuss what is to be done now about the problem of school funding in Baltimore City. 

Students can use this experience as a jumping off point for Senior Encounter projects in May. They may want to continue their relationships with William Paca students as assistant coaches of the school’s lacrosse and rugby teams. They may also want to participate in other after-school study and mentoring programs. 

Other Encounter projects could include volunteer work for community service organizations, political campaigns, local social activists or local businesses. These projects may also take a purely academic turn and allow students to write a research papers on topics arising from our study of the literature, history, social science, and journalism covered in the course.

Course Readings:

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005) by Jonathan Kozol 

Jitney (1977) by August Wilson

The Promised Land (1991) Nicholas Lemann

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1892) by Stephen Crane

Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright

Tally’s Corner (1964) by Elliott Lebow

The Corner (1992) by David Simon and Edward Burns