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Teacher's Fear



To the Editors of The Crimson:

With astonishment, I see on the front page of The Crimson that three black students have accused my friend and fellow Expository Writing teacher, Suze Craig, of "discouraging black students" and of creating a "racial atmosphere" in her class.

I feel that I must sit and write. But why?

To be honest, I suppose I feel that I must begin raising my own defenses. I know that the same charges may well be leveled in public at me one day, and I fancy that I can ward them off just by declaring that I see them coming.

But if that were all the reason I had for sitting and writing, I would stop now and save my reader the reading time.

No, there is more: one of the finest teachers I have met at Harvard has been wronged. Her good name should be cleared quickly.

According to The Crimson, Suze's words on first hearing of the three black students' charges were: "Holy Mackerel." I say that's putting it mildly. Of all the teachers to have singled out!

Suze positively beams whenever she tells of the good work a student of hers has done. More to the point perhaps, the students whose work she celebrates include black students.

Two students of hers have come to speak with me in the Writing Center this year. Both have told me that they enjoyed her class quite a lot.

I have seen her leaving the Expository Writing Office for home. Her briefcase bulges with student work to read and with books on writing or teaching writing which colleagues have recommended to her.

It was at her suggestion that all full-time Expos instructors met and conversed over lunch with a member of the Bureau of Study Counsel this fall. She had encountered students going through serious personal crises, and she wanted us to consider how teachers might help in times of crisis.

Only two days before the story ran, The Crimson ran a front page article that reported favorably on a specific teaching innovation of Suze's and one other Expos teacher: the use of tape-recorded comments to replace written marginal comments on papers.

This is the Suze Craig I recognize: fair-minded, effective, concerned, hard-working, resourceful...I have never seen the Suze Craig who is charged with "discouraging" students and creating a "racial atmosphere."

What accounts for the charges? As best I can make out from The Crimson, Suze used a student essay containing the phrase "nigger maid" as a prose model. Also, she required that her students read the essay by X.J. Kennedy entitled "Who Killed King Kong?", in which Kennedy sees Kong as "a black superman figure." I do not have access to the first essay cited, the student essay, but I have read Kennedy's piece, and I gladly tell of it: it comprises twelve paragraphs, only one of which, the second to last, deals with black response to King Kong. Kennedy's point throughout it is not that blacks identify with King Kong, but that we all identify with him--"the ape in us," as Kennedy puts it. Black response is but a variation of Kennedy's on Kennedy's underlying theme. Tell me: is this any grounds for grievance?

As to the other specific charge.... Eugene Green, author of the students' protest, charges that Suze "consistently acted as if blacks could only write well about what she seemed to see as 'the black experience.'" On first reading this, I sat and wondered what Green could be getting at. I knew that Suze devotes a part of the semester to autobiography and reflection; I thought maybe she had inadvertently offended him or others in the process of brainstorming for particular autobiographical paper topics. The Crimson quotes a white student in her class as saying, "She was probably trying to be helpful, and didn't see how blacks might see it as degrading." I cannot believe there is any more to it than that.

All of which brings me to a certain fear I have, the fear of misunderstanding. Today--taking in the spectacle of Suze Craig in a terrible mess for doing nothing more heinous than things I do on every teaching day--today, I feel just a bit desperate. A line of a song from the sixties comes back to me: "Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood!" Larry Weinstein

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