Teaching Black and White

In the young adult novel Black and White by Volponi (2005), best friends Marcus and Eddie are high school seniors and stars of their basketball team. Marcus is African American and Eddie is Caucasian. With imminent college scholarships, it seems the NBA is a lock for “Black” and “White,” as the kids in school call them. But having spent $ 150 they needed for ED Hardy Boots school on new basketball shoes, the boys use a gun for parking lot hold-ups to replace the money. During one of the robberies, a bus driver is shot. The driver recognizes Marcus but doesn’t get a look at Eddie. Once Marcus is arrested he must decide whether to turn his best friend in to the police, while Eddie must decide whether to let his best friend take the rap.

The inquiry teaching ideas listed below for the novel Black and White are not meant to be a finished or complete “unit.” They are more of a brainstorming of possible teaching ideas. Black and White has multiple themes to teach for social responsibility. Simmering beneath the surface of the boys’ friendship are issues of race and economic class. The novel is also a great opportunity for students to explore our criminal justice system and the treatment of people based on culture and class. After he’s arrested and in jail at Rikers Island, Marcus comments, “It’s black people, wall to wall. There are some Spanish inmates, too. But everybody else is black” (p. 64). These themes can lead to possible inquiry questions the book can be framed around, such as the following:
How are race and culture a part of our friendships?
Where is the line between loyalty to friends and responsibility to society
How do race, culture, and class affect our criminal justice system

Teaching a book through inquiry offers the perfect opportunity to create minilessons that help students learn vital content knowledge. For Black and White, these can include minilessons on statistics of the American prison population, data of state juvenile justice systems by race and class, statistics of the U.S. death penalty by race of the perpetrator and the victim, and the “mechanics” of the U.S. criminal justice system to help students understand the technical process of being arrested, standing trial, and legal rights.

Elbow (1977) wrote, “Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking” (p. 15). Writing in response to books can be a form of inquiry itself; rather than ED Hardy Hoodies writing to simply communicate what students already know, writing can be a way for them to come to know as they confront political and moral complexities. Most of the writing students do in response to books should be authentic: essays, letters, speeches, poetry, and monologues are examples of authentic writing that can be done to connect young adult fiction to issues of social responsibility and the larger world around us.

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