Fall 2014 -- Volume 29 #1, pgs 19-23
As soon as I logged into ReThinking Schools, the first article I saw was the one about using The Hunger Games to teach social class, and I was beyond tempted to just go with it. I kept digging around a little bit (mostly because I feel like I was takingThe Hunger Games in a slightly different direction than Marshall and Rosatti did, but I'm sure we'll come back to that), and came across an article that seems to segue beautifully from our first few discussions. Michelle Kenney, a white, middle-aged language arts teacher in Portland, Oregon, makes a point of having a very important discussion with her students every single year - the "n-word talk." My first thought as I started reading the article was holy brave soul, but as I continued, I realized this is a woman who knows what she's doing. Reading about the sources, methods, and discussion techniques she uses makes me realize even more how necessary this conversation is for each of us to have with our students.
Kenney uses different forms of media (documentary videos, rap songs, talk show clips, news reports) to draw students' attention to how the n-word and its meaning have changed significantly over the years. She then asks them to reflect on this after they have discussed it at length, and to decide how they feel about using the word, along with how they feel about other people using it. What I found most powerful about this was that this white teacher had openly discussed something "taboo" with her students, an issue that they may (or may not) have thought about in depth previously, but one that they had certainly encountered in their diverse community. I wonder what this conversation would look like in my classroom. How it might differ in the classroom at Tolman that I was in last year. How it might differ if I was older, or in a different setting...but then I stop and ask myself, why?
Why should it matter where I am teaching? Do my students not hear the n-word on a daily basis in the music they listen to, the videos they watch, the friends they have? Do my students have to be able to decide whether or not they will use the n-word, and know why or why not? It would certainly be a very different conversation from the one Kenney has each year with her students, and different from the conversations that Emily Bernard has with her university students as a black professor. But it would be a conversation, out loud, in which my students would be asked to analyze and assess the n-word, its history, and its meaning. Don't I owe it to them?
I can't wait to discuss this article and all of yours on Wednesday.
Also, I came across this after our "Take a Step" activity from last class, and was going to share it with you all anyway, but I feel that as I am pondering my responsibility of teaching my students so many things I never thought I would be ready for, this is beyond appropriate, and just may become my new mantra.