Teaching Junot Díaz 1


Interesting item (brought to you/us by Peter Jordens): a controversial short story [authored by Junot Díaz] gets a Sarasota substitute teacher banned. Below, you will find a link to Yadira Lopez’s article “Controversial short story gets Sarasota substitute teacher banned” (Herald Tribune, 10 January 10 2017). Here are excerpts:

It was Lisa del Rosso’s second day on the job as a substitute teacher at Venice High. By late afternoon the writing professor would be banned from working at the school and the entire Sarasota County school district.

A week before winter break in December, del Rosso had 12th-grade students in an Advanced English class read “Alma,” a short story by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Junot Diaz. The story, published in The New Yorker, comes from Diaz’s book “This is How You Lose Her” and includes open discussions of race and relationships, as well as graphic descriptions of sex and explicit language. Not surprisingly, it got the attention of del Rosso’s 12th-graders, who, as one student put it, don’t usually read anything that “isn’t blessed by Dr. Seuss himself.”

More important for del Rosso, a writing professor at New York University for the past eight years, it got the students talking and engaging with the material. In her first day as a substitute, del Rosso had seen the students – bored and listless – whiz through the work assigned by the teacher and quickly turn to scrolling through their phones.

“The lesson was really about controversy,” del Rosso said. “I asked the class, ‘Do you find this piece controversial? Why do you think The New Yorker picked this piece to publish? Do you find anything in it offensive? Do you think the author did this for shock value or is it authentic to the piece?'”

Within hours, Venice High Vice Principal Rosemary Schmidt reportedly received a call from a parent of a student in the class. Schmidt and Vice Principal Melanie Ritter told del Rosso to stop teaching the story.

It’s inappropriate, said administrators.

It’s literature, countered del Rosso.

[. . .] Sarasota County’s one-strike policy makes it one of the strictest districts in Florida. Substitutes can be blacklisted for reasons including losing their temper, being tardy or wearing clothes deemed inappropriate. At orientation, del Rosso said substitutes were not told of the policy.

Substitutes can also replace most positions, including custodians and administrative assistants. In del Rosso’s first week on the job, she was a substitute security guard. Substitutes with a bachelor’s earn $115 per day. Those who have a master’s, like del Rosso, earn $124 per day.

The job can feel like babysitting, said del Rosso. The hiring process is long, too. Although del Rosso applied in August, she was not officially hired until Dec. 1. She applied on a whim after taking a leave of absence at NYU to take care of her ill mother in Venice.

“Historically, from what I understand, we are always in need of quality substitute teachers,” Jackson said. “South County in particular struggles to maintain strong numbers for whatever reason.”

The district gave del Rosso 10 days to appeal their decision to ban her.

She chose not to appeal.

For full article, see http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170110/controversial-short-story-gets-sarasota-substitute-teacher-banned

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