Teach Precious math

Raped repeatedly by her father, abused by her horrible mother and kicked out of school for her second pregnancy, Precious (also obese, black and illiterate) finds redemption when an alternative-school teacher (lesbian) teaches her to read and write a journal about her feelings. Writing isn’t going to save Precious (also HIV infected), says Jennie Yabroff in Newsweek. Teach her math so she can get a job to support her infant and toddler (one has Down’s Syndrome) and move out of the homeless shelter where she ends up.

It’s possible, of course, that Precious will go on journaling her way to middle-class security. But watching the film, I wondered why her teacher kept insisting Precious write, write, write, instead of add, subtract, multiply. If Precious aspires to financial security and gainful employment, she’s a lot likelier to get it as an accountant than a poet.

. . . In movies such as Freedom Writers and Finding Forrester, books including Precious, and the Broadway play Superior Donuts, underprivileged, minority kids are able to transform their lives with a few strokes of a pen. Rather than impeding effective communication, these characters’ lack of vocabulary, limited understanding of grammar, ignorance of literature, and basic inability to read or spell guarantee the urgency and authenticity of their stories, which are nonetheless told in fresh, descriptive language that brings tears to the eyes of their teachers.

Of course, Precious isn’t going to be a CPA any more than she’s going to be a professional writer. I know the movie is supposed to be uplifting, but the life prospects for an HIV-positive teenage mother with seventh-grade reading skills aren’t great, even without the abusive family and the disabled kid.

Update: Juan Williams calls Precious a “depraved” story in the “ghetto-lit” style, which has become popular with middle-class black women.

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  1. Perhaps the lesson from Hollywood is that these poor children are forgotten and too often swept under the rug. That if they are to survive now or in the future they must do two things.

    First, learn how to educate yourself because nobody else is going to do it.
    Second, learn to shout your story from the rooftops so that you cannot be swept under the rug with the daily trash.

  2. Well, there’s always rap.

    Grammar and writing skills are not in great demand but the pay is good (at least it’s a positive correlation with attitude).

  3. Sounds accurate in some ways. Writing a journal in math classes is becoming a tool of the trade in the rapidly devolving field of K-8 math education.

  4. Mike Curtis says:

    Hollywood, You are the smog beneath my wings.

  5. I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book, but I did just read through some plot summaries, including Williams’ own. I don’t at all follow how he lumps in the story of a sexually-abused, HIV-positive girl who lives in a halfway house but finds hope through education with a romance genre that glamorizes drug kingpins, gangsta rappers, drive-by shootings, and casual sex.

  6. I’m looking forward to the movie and to rereading the book. When Push came out, I kept a copy in my storeroom away from the prying eyes of administrators.

    One student after another devored that book.

  7. fred.lapides says:

    the sad part about your post on the dope’s accusation about the teacher union is that (1) he likens it to a real street gang that does great harm and violence–unions do not do that (cut the sneers and the anecdotes), (2)you post as a possible question to think about but The Chicago Boyz, very right of everything posts it as a grand truth.

    In fact at your blog one time it is the teachers and their unions, another post it is the Schools of Education and on and on.

    How about the home, broken or otherwise? does this not contribute to how students perceive school? And then there are the seriously underpaid and overloaded classrooms and teachers.

    For openers, if you want tho change things, study what takes place in Finland, where education, teachers, etc are widely respected and rewarded. Instead, in so many blogs and posts it is place the blame on this or on that…dump it and all will be ok. Not so at all.

    As a friend who was a top executive at a major corporation once told me, a place has a union only because he deserves to have one. Make things decent and there will not be a union.

  8. I have not heard of the book or the movie. It sounds like something an educator should read. Yes, she may not write at a job but if you are not able to write and spell can she read? I will have to read the book to find out because it seems to me that teaching her to read and do math is very important.


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