Instructors’ Teaching Experience

My results with this text are combination of initial indifference and enjoyment. My classes are typically a bit confused by the sequence of events as the tale moves from present to past back to present. The odd timing of the story creates some of the indifference, but so to does the lack of plot. Or, what my students think of as plot. As to enjoyment, my more musically inclined students are moved by Baldwin’s description of Sonny playing. Some of my students are also arrested by his use of imagery – particularly of his description of the block of ice in his belly that does and does not melt. What has been surprising is the number of students who in one-on-one conversation reference “Sonny’s Blues.” While the students are indifferent during class discussion, the very fact that students who did not speak about the text during the class discussion make reference to the text while we discuss ideas for their papers always amazed me. [LeDon Sweeney,]

Classroom Strategies

Describing Music

I am not a music person. I do not understand beats, rhythm, key changes, etc. But, what I like greatly about “Sonny’s Blues” is his description of the musical act in the closing scene of the story. The metaphor of Sonny swimming or sailing in the shallow waters, afraid to strike out into the deep is moving and captivating. So, as a strategy, one can ask your students to describe music. Ask them to write about their favorite song – not why they like, but how they hear it, what does it “do” to them. [LeDon Sweeney,]

Everyone’s Black

One of my concerns in teaching is getting my students to recognize that race matters in the 21st century and just because we believe that people of different skin tones are equal does not mean that people of different skin tones do not have different experiences because of their skin. I never did this so take this strategy with a grain of salt; ask students what in “Sonny’s Blues” do they identify with and what they do not. There is a lot in the story one can not identify with that can be race-neutral: music playing, listening to street preachers, drug use. But, I would ask students if certain experiences are coded as race specific. For example, de-tassling corn. Is this something black people do? If race doesn’t matter in the 21st century, why do we still believe some experiences are tied to race? One of the immediate objections to stories with racism is that racism is in the past; “Sonny’s Blues” is from the late 50s after all. What happened to narrator’s father wouldn’t happen today. Right? If race doesn’t matter, you might ask how many of your students would feel comfortable taking a class with a race-specific title with which they did not identify? For example, how many of them have never considered taking Introduction to African-American Culture? [LeDon Sweeney,]