James Baldwin’s 1953 novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” about a Harlem teenager’s search for meaning, quickly became a classic, along with his searing essays about race published a decade later in the book “The Fire Next Time.” But in recent years Baldwin’s presence has diminished in many high school classrooms.
In a year that marks the 90th anniversary of his birth, educators offer different reasons for Baldwin’s faded presence there, from the concern that he is too controversial and complex to the perception that he has been eclipsed by other African-American voices. Collectively the explanations illustrate how attitudes about race have changed, along with the way the high school literary experience has evolved.
“Baldwin is still there, but he’s not there in the way he was,” said Jocelyn A. Chadwick, chairwoman of the secondary level of the National Council of Teachers of English, noting that while in the 1960s and ’70s students would study Baldwin’s essays, short stories and novels in their entirety, today they often encounter his work only in anthologies.
Now teachers, scholars and other Baldwin fans are seizing on the anniversary of his birth in Harlem to inspire what they hope will be a revival of a younger generation’s interest in the work of one of the country’s most gifted writers and major voices on race and morality.
“The white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society,” C. Wright Mills writes in “White Collar” (1951), his classic sociology text, as if he were describing a race of wan termites. Nikil Saval’s excellent new book, “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace,” was inspired by Mills’s book, and it’s a fresh and intellectually omnivorous extension of its themes.
I’ve spent about half my working life sitting in, and loathing, cubicles. You’ve probably spent years in one, too. About 60 percent of us work in cubicles, and 93 percent of us dislike them. You may ask yourself, as David Byrne sings, well, how did I get here?...
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