This month is African American History month, and during a reading of the wonderful play by Kim Hines, “Home on the Mornin’ Train” in our Drama/Music class which we read as part of our school’s homage to this special month, a certain issue came up concerning some of the language chosen by the playwright that my co teacher and I were not able settle. My suggestion to the class was that I write to the playwright herself and ask her. Below is the letter. I am very hopeful to receive a response as Ms. Hines is very approachable. When and if that happens, I will certainly post that response as well.
I am hopeful that you will remember me, and probably you willnot. Several years ago I directed Home on the Mornin’ Train in a middle school in VT, and you were kind enough to offer your counsel to me on how the show could be done with all white VT kids.
Well, many things have changed in my life since then, and now I am drama teacher at the Glenforest School – a K-12 school for kids with learning differences – as well as the director of a Youth Theatre program here in Columbia SC.
I recently had my drama/music class read Home on the Mornin’ Train and study the spirituals within the script to increase awareness during African American History Month. as you might imagine, there are many more African American kids in my classes now!
Here’s what I ran into: the African American kids took exception to the way the characters in the play and the stage directions use the words Colored, Negro and black. My co-teacher and I attempted to explain what we thought the purpose was: that the characters were using terms that were accurate to the time period, but our explanations fell flat and it seemed to me that the kids either did not understand or did not believe us. Our students can be less than worldly thinkers – I do not say this in a judgmental way, but only to give you knowledge of our kids who have a range of challenges including ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome, Dyslexia and other learning differences. At any rate this makes any but concrete thinking difficult for them in many cases and I think they had a hard time seeing the use of the specific language from any but their own perspective.
So my request is this: if you have any time at all for such things anymore, would you be willing to make a statement to our students concerning your choices for the language in the play? When I mentioned that I had in fact communicated with you several years ago the students perked up their ears and really seemed to get excited that you, the playwright, were not only a real person, but someone one could communicate with! lol – again, that concrete way of thinking and looking at things.
So anyway Kim, I do hope things are going well with you, and let me tell you I really enjoyed revisiting the play. And if you happen to find time to help us out with these guys and their understanding of the language in the play, I think it would help them on many levels.
Thank you, and best of luck to you!