What These Children Are Like


Ellison, Ralph




Best known for his National Book Award winning novel, Invisible Man (1952), Ralph Ellison was also a prominent essayist and critic. Educated at what is now Tuskegee University, where he left before earning a degree, Ellison originally strived to be a musician, but eventually focused his energies on writing. “What These Children Are Like” is from a 1963 lecture given by Ellison in Dedham, Massachusetts. In this broad lecture, Ellison asks his listeners to consider problems of identity, language, discrimination, and why the education system is not reaching large groups of students. What does it mean to be “culturally deprived”? What role does language play in our identity? Where does imagination fit into the educational system?

Full Text*

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The text is from a lecture given by Ralph Ellison at a seminar on "Education for Culturally Different Youth" in Dedham, Massachusetts.




Big Questions


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Who are the "children" Ellison discusses in his lecture?
  2. What role does Ellison see imagination playing in education and society? In what ways does he see imagination being deprived or quashed?
  3. According to the other critics discussed by Ellison, what does it mean to be "culturally deprived"? Why does Ellison believe there is no such thing as a "culturally deprived" child?
  4. What does Ellison mean when he requests to be taught "that which is real to me" and "a way into the larger society"?
  5. What do you think Ellison means by "first-class" imagination? How is it found? How is it fostered?
  6. What role do the arts play in Ellison's vision?
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