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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
It Ain't Necessarily So
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for Teachers is divided into four sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Extensions -- Alternate Activities for your Consideration.
Tips -- Managing Resources and Student Activities.


Student Prerequisites:
If possible, students should view the opera PORGY AND BESS, or listen to the soundtrack. A recording of the original cast soundtrack is available for purchase at CD Universe. Other versions of the soundtrack may be available elsewhere.

The following sites should be bookmarked:


    A fairly thorough overview of the opera.

  • GREAT PERFORMANCES: Creating America's Opera

    More on PORGY AND BESS's origins and permutations. Look here for suggestions that imply the authors may have had a romanticized or patronizing view of African-Americans.

  • Goat Cart Sam a.k.a. Porgy: Edwin Dubose Heyward's Icon of Southern Innocence

    A critical essay on Heyward's portrayal of the African-American denizens of Charleston's Catfish Row.

  • Porgy's Charleston

    Another article critical of the characterizations in Heyward's novel.

    Computer Resources:
    You will need at least one computer with Internet access to complete this lesson. While many configurations will work, we recommend:

    -- Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.
    -- Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.
    -- Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MB of RAM.
    -- IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.

    For more information, visit What You Need to Get Connected in wNetSchool's Internet Primer.

  • Introduce students to the opera PORGY AND BESS using wNetStation's GREAT PERFORMANCES Web piece, Porgy and Bess: An American Voice. Begin with a brief discussion on the genesis and history of the piece.

    Tell students that while the Gershwin opera has inarguable artistic merit, there has been an ongoing controversy surrounding its depiction of the African-American characters.

  • Allow students to discuss their ideas and experiences related to issues of bias and stereotypes. Ask, "What is a stereotype?" List some stereotypes on the board. (Try to keep the discussion from getting too volatile by examining non-ethnic or racial stereotypes. These might include nerds, blondes, airplane pilots, models, New Yorkers, or Californians.) After establishing interest and relevance, bring the students back to the discussion of the ongoing controversy about PORGY AND BESS.

    Distribute Student Pathway 1 found in Organizers for Students. Using those Web resources as a starting point, have students conduct their own research on the debate about PORGY AND BESS and write a one-page summary of the conflict. As they write their summaries, have students consider the Reflection Questions listed in Organizers for Students.

  • After students have written their summaries, engage the class in a discussion on the topic. Ask students to raise their hands if they included the word "stereotype" in their essays. List some ways in which people are stereotyped. These may include race, gender, age, religion, job, looks, culture, or position in a family, e.g., mother. Explain that issues surrounding stereotypes are complex. Questions for students to consider at this stage include:
    • Are all stereotypes negative?
    • How do we learn stereotypes?
    • Where do they come from?
    • What influences the generation -- and perpetuation -- of stereotypes?
    • Is it ever acceptable to include stereotypical traits in a characterization? Why or why not?

  • After a class discussion of these thorny issues, have the class explore the characterizations of African-Americans in PORGY AND BESS in greater depth. The opera sprang from Edwin Dubose Heyward's 1924 novel, PORGY. In turn, the book came about because of a newspaper clipping Heyward read about a real-life denizen of South Carolina's Catfish Row. Heyward embellished this news account about a crime of passion committed by a crippled beggar with folkloric elements and memories culled from his own experiences on Charleston's waterfront.

    Gershwin biographers Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon wrote: "It is astonishing today how innovative the treatment of black life in PORGY was. Heyward wrote not out of pity for an exploited race, nor with any desire to propagandize; rather it was his intention to dramatize a way of life which he found strange and admirable and worthy of serious artistic expression."

    Pass out Assignment and Student Pathway 2. Students' task is to analyze the quote and conduct research that will help them either affirm or contradict the authors' perspective. Have them research portraits of black life devised by Heyward's contemporaries. Ask the class which search words would facilitate their online investigation. List these on the board. Some Boolean search ideas might be:
    • Negro AND literature
    • Stereotypes AND Negro
    • Negro AND folklore
    • Black writers + folklore
    (Because Heyward wrote at the beginning of this century, document searches using the term Negro might produce more relevant results than the more modern term African-American.)

    The following sites (also listed on Assignment and Student Pathway 2 in the student organizer) will help students get acquainted with the ways in which African-American life was portrayed at the beginning of this century.

  • HYPE: Center for Media and the Black Experience

  • The Harlem Renaissance: White Exploitation of Black Self-Expression

  • Images of Black Women in Zora Neale Hurston's THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD

  • Uncle Remus Critique

  • Students have now looked at some of the diverse ways in which African- Americans have been portrayed in literature, popular culture, and even in America's most renowned opera.

    As a culminating project, have students engage in an activity that combines both investigation and creation. Students may research positive examples in art, literature, and mass culture from the first half of this century that demonstrate depth and diversity of African-American characterization and culture. Authors and folklorists such as Zora Neale Hurston ( offer much-needed counterbalances to Caucasian authors' sometimes negative, often condescending portrayals. Using the Web, students will look into African-American culture and life between the two World Wars. They may write their own fictional stories using African-American characters from that period, or they may choose to write a satirical piece, purposefully using stereotypes to highlight the simplicity of such one-dimensional characters. Or, if they choose, students may create a mock periodical (either in print form or online) that illuminates African-American rural or urban life of that period.

    English and Social Studies teachers: You may choose to have your students study and write critiques or analyses of other works in the American canon that, although they have undisputed artistic merit, may (or may not) promulgate stereotypes. Have students consider the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which the works were created. You may conduct debates on some disputed topics, e.g.: Is Huckleberry Finn a racist work?

    Give students an opportunity to examine a number of texts and images portraying a variety of ethnic, religious, and social stereotypes from diverse media, including literature, newspapers, magazines, film, comic books, advertising, and television. Have them analyze the overt and covert messages conveyed and explore the relationship between these messages and the prevailing social and economic climates of the historical periods that produced them. Classes can investigate the social and psychological significance of these messages within specific cultural contexts in order to try and understand the forces that instigate, shape, and perpetuate racial and ethnic fallacies. Units on stereotypes may include:

  • Have students investigate the historical or literary origins of select stereotypes and caricatures. Have them follow-up by examining the often-implicit messages about ethnic, religious, racial, and other groups in modern day media. Students can look at the impact these messages -- and the thinking they shape -- can have on human behavior and social constructs.

    To supplement the texts, activities can be used to promote student analysis and discussion. In addition to historical footage and images culled from a variety of media, teachers can screen the documentary BLUE EYES, BROWN EYES to elaborate on the role stereotypes and other fallacious information can play to shape the imagination, behavior, and self-image of individuals and societies.

  • In addition to analyzing the origins and content of the messages themselves, students can examine the consequences that the previously-studied stereotypes can inflict. Moving beyond an empathetic look at the impact of bias, this unit will study the quantitative as well as qualitative toll these messages impose upon human endeavors. By looking at social and economic realities, as well as key experiments like the Blue-eyed/Brown-eyed Child simulation, students will learn how abstract ideas about a given group can shape thinking and affect behavior.

    By studying the manufacture of stereotypes within a range of specific social and historical contexts, students will begin to identify the link between the intent of ideology and the range of consequences it can produce. Through a variety of simulation exercises, discussion, and readings, students will explore the persistence of stereotypical thinking and its effect on perception and behavior.

  • Have students conduct quantitative surveys to identify stereotypes in library materials or on television.

    For more information on media literacy issues and stereotypes in particular, visit Media Awareness Network:

    For Educators:
    The Media Awareness Network

    For Students:
    The Media Awareness Network

    Site Overview:
    The Media Awareness Network is an excellent Canadian Web site with a multitude of resources for students, teachers, and parents. There are also separate forums and discussion groups for students and educators for sharing ideas, debating topics, or joining focused discussions dealing with a wide range of media literacy issues.

    Action Plan:
    Teachers may want to explore the relevance of stereotypes in students' own lives -- this time with an eye toward action. Following their study of the creation and dissemination of images and ideas promoting stereotypes, teachers may choose to have students work on independent or group projects pertaining to:
    • Contemporary issues and problems of media bias.
    • Media and text analysis. Investigations into related topics, including ethics, Holocaust studies, and eugenics movements.
    • Service-oriented projects designed to promote parent, student, and community awareness and action.
    Throughout the unit, encourage students to link what they learn with individual choices in their own lives. Students should participate in several ongoing activities that foster reflection and creativity -- including journal writing, poetry, art, videotape projects, and the collecting of others' stories and reflections. In addition to being authors, artists, filmmakers, archivists, and folklorists, students can claim another designation: thinker.

    In addition to students' reflections and creative output, the lesson may encourage students to think not only in terms of their role in society, but also of the necessity for community participation. Local opportunities for confronting and examining misunderstandings, myths, and misinformation about "the other" should be as central to the project as historical examinations of these topics. The ultimate goal of It Ain't Necessarily So is not only to inform and enlighten students, but also to promote an understanding of their power to participate positively in the local and global community.

    Working in Groups
    If you have access to one computer in your classroom, you can organize your class in several ways. Divide your classroom into two groups. Instruct one of the groups to do paper research while the second group is working on the computer. Bring in books, encyclopedias, etc., from the library for the group doing paper research. Lead the group working at the computer through an Internet search or allow the students in the class to take turns. (It may be efficient to have a set of bookmarks ready for the students before they start working on the computer.) When the groups have finished working have them switch places.

    Look for Web Resources Together as a Class
    If you have a big monitor or projection facilities, you can do an Internet search together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen. Go to the Porgy and Bess: An American Voice Web piece and review the information presented there. Go to a search engine page, allow your students to suggest the search criteria, and do an Internet search. Again, bookmark and/or print the pages that you think are helpful for reference later.

    Using a Computer Lab
    A computer center or lab space, with a computer-to-student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web-based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time and make suggestions. This way, you can be sure that students have a starting point.

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students