Hughes poem mirrors the struggles ethnic and racial minority students in America go through in the course of their studies. As we can see, he is a lone student of African American decent in the classroom and finds it rather difficult to understand fellow students who are white majority and also adjust to the situation. This kind of situation present difficulties to a student such as Hughes as one cannot be sure whether he/she needs to learn something new from the experience or if fellows should be learning from them. Just as Hughes finally realizes the importance of racial and ethnic integration in school, everyone learns from anyone in the school context. I dropped out of school in 9th grade due to the struggles to cut a niche for myself being of a racial minority and I now realize that teachers should help students like me cope with their environment.
The United States is a multi-cultural state with every racial sect represented portraying various cultures. In my days as a student upto the ninth grade, I was in such a setting. Integration was quite difficult and this prompted me dropping out of school. As per the poem, we find out that Hughes was perhaps in a more difficult situation than I was because as he was the only student of a racial minority. Putting this across in the poem shows us the hardship Hughes was going through and the situation appears to be worse because he had no one to relate to.
Relating Hughes life as a student to mine as a student, I can only draw similarities with just but a few difference. I belonged to a racial minority, an African American student just like Hughes. The only difference is than in my school we were more than one ethnic minority group. All the same, white students were the majority when considering both students and teachers. We African Americans, Latinos and Indigenous Americans were the minority students. Interaction was free and fun among us as students as we were almost of the same age group. However, there are some of us who were brainwashed by stereotypical belief against other groups especially the racial minorities which made life a struggle to cope for some of us. This negative treatment was in most times accorded to us by white American students.
In our interaction with teachers, there were big problems. Most of the teachers understood neither our cultures nor our differences. Just as in Hughes poem, many of use minorities found ourselves catching up with our studies as the methods employed did not favour us much or that the methods employed by our teachers were a bit strange to us. Most of us also got punished quite often because of things we innocently did because they were acceptable in our cultures. At this point, most of us thought we did not belong to such as society just as Hughes relates;
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
Picturing the classroom situation of those days, all the racial minorities in class liked grouping together and even executing their tasks in groups. Whenever our teachers issued group assignments, we were more than prepared to engage with each other and solve the same. This created a rift between us and our white counterparts who never wanted to share with each other even the pieces of knowledge they had acquired from school. This made us feel different from each other and the minorities including the Latinos, African American and the Native Americans were the most affected as they were the least in the population. Some like me contemplated dropping out of school.
Things like sharing textbooks and personal notes in the class became difficult and also some of us found it difficult to express ourselves. In our residential places, we do express ourselves freely without fear of rebuke or condemnation by anyone including the elders. Trying this in school attracted punishment and thus we could keep quite even if speaking was part of a learning process.
Witnessing these as a student makes me realize now every student deserves keen attention and understanding, both from fellow students and from teachers. They need to feel they belong to the same world and that they are in learning institutions as equals and for a purpose, to help each other attain a better future. Without this understanding then most students will not be able to fulfill their potential due to constantly feeling out of place and struggle to gain recognition.
Reflecting on the school life when living out of school has enabled me understand perfectly well what I was going through before dropping out of school. There is not going to be a shift anytime soon in terms of racial representation in terms of both students and teachers. The differences in every student should be taken advantage of by their teachers so as to help get the best out of them.
The first step in this is appreciation. Appreciating that every student is unique in a way or another and that they have strengths and weakness and thus striving to maximize on the strengths and improving on the weaknesses. This way students would not feel the pink of racial or ethnic parity and will be encouraged to pursue their education.
It is thus in order to agree with Hughes that everyone learns something from each other in a school setting, and this applies for both teachers and students.
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
Hughes, Langston. The collected poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage, 1994.