Through close analysis of literature and non-fiction texts, critique of pop culture, student-led discussions, and experiences with experts in our community, students built an understanding of their own placement in society and identified strategies for empowering oppressed groups in meaningful ways.
In today’s climate of emboldened racism, sexism, and xenophobia it is more important now than ever that we tackle these issues head on.
After the presidential election of 2016, there was a sharp rise in incidents of hate speech and incidents of bias in the United States. In response to fear in local communities, the Arab American Association of New York began an initiative to support Muslim, Arab , and undocumented people in New York City who had experienced or feared incidents of bias. The resulting project became a city-wide initiative called The Accompany Project which trains community members in bystander intervention and de-escalation.
Inspired by the community-focused response to an issue that we had been working through in class, we forged a connection with AAA-NY to train our students as leaders in their own communities to act as informed upstanders against hate and injustice and bring the classroom content into our real lives. We paired this experience with close readings of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
This expedition was designed to make space for our diverse class of 10th graders to explore power structures in our society, in our lives, and in literature to be more aware of how racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression manifest and what they can do to interrupt these damaging ways of thinking. Throughout the expedition, students learned more about how they can have the really hard conversations about racism and sexism that need to happen to make our community and country a more equitable place.
Research suggests that reading literary texts promotes empathy among people. Throughout the semester, students worked to identify and test their own perspectives about race and identity against fiction and nonfiction texts. This practice manifested in deep discussions and essays which allow students to develop a thesis and support it with texts and experiences they had throughout the expedition.
Synthesizing Texts to Form an Argument
Students began this expedition by reading sections of the nonfiction text, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. By analyzing how Coates’ identity impacted his experiences in the world, students explores how their own identities have impacted and will impact their experiences in society.
Next, students read The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Students examined how writing can be used to send messages about the role that our identities play in shaping our experiences in the world. Throughout the reading of these texts, students engaged in conversation not only about each text, but also how the texts connect to events and experiences in our community and the world. During the reading of the texts, the discussions, and other activities, students wrote their own questions to ask about the world, developed ideas about the role of literature in society, and considered what the texts and conversations have revealed to them about their own identity.
Students chose one of 6 organizations to visit to learn more about how the themes we studied in class manifest in the real world. The fieldwork allowed students to further understand what kinds of real-world advocacy organizations are doing right now and how they can become involved.