Saturday, February 18, 2012

Langston Hughes could do anything!

In the 1970s when I was a new professor (at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University), a particular colleague and I would chat occasionally about our teaching methods and compare them with the ways we'd been taught. We agreed that many of our teachers seemed to dump mathematics on us in any manner whatever -- supposing that, if we were smart enough, we would pick it up. We thought we were better teachers than our predecessors and yet I am haunted by knowing that the privileged -- whether by wealth or education or birthplace or whatever -- seldom see their advantage over those who are different. Still, some of us survive unlikely odds, being lucky enough to have an "I can do anything" attitude like that expressed by poet Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967) in "I, Too":

     I, Too       by Langston Hughes

     I, too, sing America.

     I am the darker brother.
     They send me to eat in the kitchen
     When company comes,
     But I laugh,
     And eat well,
     And grow strong.

     I’ll be at the table
     When company comes.
     Nobody’ll dare
     Say to me,
     “Eat in the kitchen,”

     They’ll see how beautiful I am
     And be ashamed—
     I, too, am America.

Found online at the website of The Poetry Foundation, “I, Too” appears also in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Books, 1995).  Still more fighting spirit is found in Hughes' "Harlem" -- also availble from The Poetry Foundation and in Hughes' Collected Poems.

     Harlem      by Langston Hughes

     What happens to a dream deferred?

        Does it dry up
        like a raisin in the sun?
        Or fester like a sore—
        And then run?
        Does it stink like rotten meat?
        Or crust and sugar over—
        like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
        like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes' work also was featured in this blog's posting for 20 February 2011.  Of additional  interest in connection with recent postings, is the fact that the name for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival (March 22-25, 2012)  -- see my 5 February 2012 posting -- came from Hughes' poem "Big Buddy."
Underrepresentation of women in mathematics has been an occasional topic in this blog; see, for example, the posting on 9 October, 2011.

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