In this text, Coates outlines how the history of racially discriminatory policies in the US informed the current inequities that are endured by the African American community today. Specifically, he outlines how the policies of Klan terrorism, Jim Crow, redlining, and drug criminalization led to substantial socio-cultural hierarchies that have yet to be ameliorated. Finally, Coates calls for reparations for the Black community, a policy which–according to him–is necessary for the creation of a more equitable society. This text is an archetypal example of effective persuasive writing; Coates’ claims are clear, he points to easily verifiable evidence, and connects this evidence to his claims via sound reasoning. In other words, the article makes an incredibly compelling argument, one which I’m sure will amply engage my students, most particularly those who hold strong opinions on reparations or larger racial politics. Needless to say, if I am to be teaching in an area like Armstrong, I have little doubt that I will encounter a fairly great deal of these students.
Interestingly, this text scored at the border of a 7th and 8th grade reading level on the Fry readability scale. I think, in reality, it would be more difficult for students to digest than this score suggests. Digesting Coates’ article requires a pretty significant degree of scaffolding: understanding much of what Coates is saying in regards to redlining, for example, requires that one first have some conceptualization about the American system of commodified housing–a knowledge set that I can reasonably assume to be foreign to most teenagers. In other words, Coates’ article is easy to read, but deceptively difficult to understand.
Use in and outside of class
Of course, simply because Coates’ text may be difficult to understand for most students does not mean that it has no place in my classroom. I think that the best use of this text would be through a guided reading; this way, we could suss out any misunderstandings as a class and make Coates’ work substantially more digestible. The Case for Reparations is an incredibly important text in terms of illustrating the continued need for collective action in order to secure the equitable treatment of all people, and I refuse to let it’s advanced conceptual prerequisites prevent my students from learning from it.
With this said, because the principle difficulty in this text lies not within its’ vocabulary or syntax but with Coates’ reliance on complex sociological concepts, I don’t actually think that ELLs, students with IEPs, or generally weaker readers would be at quite the same level of disadvantage as they might otherwise be with this text. ALL students, even stronger readers, are unlikely to have an easy time tackling this text independantly. Again, I would really stress the use of guided reading techniques with Coates’ work.
Submitted by Mitch Linde