In "A Talk to Teachers," what relationship does James Baldwin establish with his audience in the opening two paragraphs?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James Baldwin's speech/published text, "A Talk to Teachers," he immediately establishes a relationship with his audience. This relationship is established in the following ways:

1. Communal sympathy/apathy- Baldwin states that the times they (he and the teachers) are facing are "dangerous times." He goes on to state that they are "in one way or another aware of that." Here Baldwin is establishing a relationship by showing that he recognizes the dangers of the times as the teachers do. He is associating with them so as to gain their trust.

2. Baldwin, then, acknowledges the importance of teachers by stating  that the teachers, as those "who deal with the minds and hearts of young people," must be responsible and "go for broke" when it comes to educating the youth of the nation. Here, Baldwin is stating that teachers are very important in the lives of the young and are needed to "correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty." As a teacher, one would love to hear this statement being made by someone who is not a teacher.

3. Lastly, Baldwin admits that while he is not a teacher he feels the same way about the youth of today. In the end, Baldwin states what he believes is the purpose of education:

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.  To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.

By saying this, Baldwin is showing his support for education, what education needs to provide for the youth, and gains the trust of the teachers to whom he is speaking.

Overall, Baldwin does a wonderful job of creating a relationship with the teachers to which he is speaking because he does not come down harshly on them. Instead, he appeals to their love of children and education which he obviously shares. The teachers are able to see this and accept the "friendship" he is offering through his speech.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Baldwin establishes a relationship of openness right from the start as he immediately addresses the harshest domestic social problem of his time: "The society in which we live is desperately menaced, ... but from within." He also establishes honesty with his audience of teachers; he reiterates what everyone already knows but might be hesitant to say: "we are living through a very dangerous time ... We are in a revolutionary situation." Baldwin further establishes honesty, which is an important element of his relationship with the teachers to establish since he is an outsider as a non-teacher giving counsel to teachers: "I am not a teacher myself." Transparency is established as he speaks diffidently about himself and points out his vulnerability: "[I] in some ways am fairly easily intimidated."

Ethos can be defined in rhetoric as the emotion an author or speaker expresses or displays in an effort to persuade his audience (Encyclopedia Britannica). The relationship Baldwin establishes derives from, or more specifically, generates a persuasive emotion of earnest sympathy and foreboding. He conveys this ethos through the language in which he couches his ideas:    

earnest: "examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk."
sympathy: "[the black child] has at the front door, if not closer, the pimps, the whores, the junkies – in a word, the danger of life in the ghetto. And the child knows this, though he doesn’t know why."
foreboding: "this [black] child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents. If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy."