Tag Archives: Diversity

Honoring Trailblazing Women

Global Citizenship Campaign for March

The following post was written by members of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave—to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

—Malala Yousafzai

As the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship continues to consider ways in which teachers, students, and community members can increase our knowledge of what it means to be a global citizen, we turned to the status of girls and women for the month of March. In the United States, March serves as Women’s History Month, and the theme for Women’s History Month 2017 is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

There are many trailblazing women to admire, and thus on a personal level, girls might be encouraged to consult biographies of women who have made a difference in the world of business and labor. Understanding what encompasses both business and labor would be a great start for girls in elementary and middle school, while addressing explicit ways young women might enter the world of business and labor would make for great teaching at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

The National Women’s History Project website is a great resource for learning more about female leaders throughout time. Nominations for this year’s honorees include Kate Mullany, who, in 1845, began the first all-women labor union, and Lucy Parsons Gonzales, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.

In discussions about women’s history, exemplars of strong voices who disrupt the status quo can be found in clips from biographies on series such as PBS’s “American Masters”. This month ABC’s “When We Rise,” addresses issues of gender and gender advocacy and offers another great way to encourage students to become familiar with positive avenues for equity.

As transgender equity seems threatened, emailing congressional representatives as well as school board representatives and school district administrators about supporting transgendered students is one action students can take. Talking about such issues and the historic actions taken in the past to protect other underrepresented groups is equally important.

Using biography projects (see Pinterest and Scholastic) or encouraging innovations through inquiry projects that would make a change in people’s lived experiences (see The Better India and edTechTeacher), young people have a path to action. Inviting students to become participants in organizations such as Girl Up or Disrupt and Innovate can help them see that they can be the change we want to see in the world.

World Poetry Day

World Poetry Day is recognized every year on March 21. This is the day in which UNESCO recognises the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture. To honor World Poetry Day, take some time to read and explore writers from around the globe and bring their works into the classroom.

Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante, was a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. “The Art of Imitation” invites students to craft verse-narratives that mimic the character, plot, and stylistic devices of Dante, as well as Chaucer.

Alastair Reid was a Scottish poet and a scholar of South American literature. Author Naorni Shihab Nye, in “Globos = Balloons“, shares the power of translating poems using a piece from Reid.

India’s Rabindranath Tagore authored a timeless poem, “The man had no useful
work.” “Classic Connections: Aiding Literary Comprehension through Varied Liberal Arts Alliances” explores using that poem as the inspiration for dramatic interpretation.

Rose Macaulay was an English novelist and writer. “Mimesis: Grammar and the Echoing Voice” uses an example by Rose Macaulay to show how she selected her words, as all the adjectives work hard in her description.

Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. This article from English Journal used a work from Ibsen to investigate students’ attitudes about

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era, popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime. This lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org invites students into “Finding Poetry in Prose: Reading and Writing Love Poems“.

What are your plans for celebrating World Poetry Day?

Literature and the African American Read-In

AARI_180To be recognized as an official African American Read-In Host, it’s easy as I,2,3:

  1. Select books, poems, speeches (anything) authored by African Americans;
  2. Hold your event during the month of February; and
  3. Report results by submitting an African American Read-In Report Card.

The first step is to choose a piece written by an African American author. NCTE has a Resolution on the Need for Diverse Children’s and Young Adult Books.

The African American Read-In Toolkit provides a variety of resources to help support both individual hosts and hosting organizations implement and promote African American Read-In programs. Included in the toolkit are a number of booklists including one that was crowdsourced at an NCTE Annual Convention.

The September 2016 #NCTEchat was on the topic of Black Girls’ LiteraciesDetra Price-Dennis compiled a list of Black Girls’ Literacies Resources that were shared during #NCTEchat.

Tune in to the Text Messages podcast episode #weneeddiversebooks to hear about recently-published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, Civil Rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

What titles would you add to these lists?

“We remember and pronounce”: On the Vital Finding and Making of Poems

This blog post is written by R. Joseph Rodriguez, former Chair, NCTE College Section.

In the famous poem titled “Poetry,” Marianne Moore declares, “I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle” (28). What at first seems like an attack on poetry through a poem soon becomes a defense of it. Published in 1925, the poem is a fundamental statement about the value of poetry as it reflects life itself: essential, vital, and genuine.

Moore’s poem reminds us to appreciate our everyday and experience living more fully. During National Poetry Month 91 years later, the poem continues to startle and even awaken and excite my students. In class, we experiment with language and structure by writing a poem in the style of Moore. The first line is adapted to guide us on topics such as making one’s bed, attending English class, exercising daily, and eating breakfast.

Poetry invites readers to make connections across cultures, experiences, and time. We can become present in a poem as language and form make the poem part of what we experience at this moment, now.

A poem appears and takes a breath with us—from line to line. However, the reader gives the poem full breath and a fuller life with experience. In Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, Jane Hirshfield explains, “Poetry’s work is not simply the recording of inner and outer perception; it makes by words and music new possibilities of perceiving. […] A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world” (3–4). Granted, all must be present at the table of poetry for reading and understanding: the creator, reader, and society.

Last year, a colleague and I visited a local mountain range encompassing three states and two countries with a view of 7,000 square miles. Known as the Franklin Mountains State Park, it covers a 24,256-acre patch of the Chihuahuan Desert in the middle of El Paso, Texas.

Texas, Franklin Mountains State Park, Franklin Mountains, hikers Joe Nick Patoski, Mike Olbrisch on Ron Coleman Trail with view of distant North Mount Franklin in last light
Ranger Peak in El Paso, Texas. Credit: Laurence Parent (2009)
Photo 2 of Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park Entrance Credit Texas Parks a...
Entrance to Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park. Photo Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department @2015

As we drove from the university campus toward the mountain, nature seemed massive and expansive before us. Wildlife appeared and greeted us, ranging from flowering cacti to birds, deer, insects, and reptiles in movement. When we boarded an aerial cable car to witness the topography and full view at Ranger Peak, 5,632 feet above sea level, another world appeared via all our senses while in motion.

Our eyes awake became our memorable camera as we experienced the vista and natural splendor on earth—as we would experience a poem.

Photo 3 of Trail at Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park Credit Texas Parks a...
Trail at Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park. Photo Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department @2015

The aerial lift had five spectators: two professors, a father and son, and a park ranger. As we ascended, I imagined what awaited us at the peak. Soon the ranger introduced us to the east side of range, which is part of the Franklin Mountains, and the story behind the mountain, park, and view. Because I wanted a fuller picture, I asked about the earliest inhabitants of the region, but the four-minute ride limited our sharing. As I walked on, I noted that the ranger and historical markers overlook the earliest people who frequented the mountains, the Mansos, and thus their recorded experience is absent.

In contrast, in the following narrative poem I attempt to document the historical presence of the Mansos, who are essential and vital to the story of this natural landscape and view.

Variation on a Theme by Lucille Clifton

on the cable car at Sierra de los Mansos, 2nd May 2015

nobody says the names
the given names by first peoples
to rocks once moved so moved
by the people calling this home
now unidentified and indistinct
instead we only hear of purchases
and treasures galore of land
the ranger remembers with glories
claimed yet he does not know
the names we know of the sacred
rocks and hands once touching earth
some bodies sat here and carved
mountains of lineage with rocks
fed fish and manna on these rocks
how waters once flooded the land
shaping rocks and adobe we behold
before us as we ascend into the sky
and rock bed flowers bloom
we know the rocks must know
their own deserted names
and our ancestral names
even if we misremember
or forget to ask what pages
were rewritten without us
without telling what was
and is native and holy here
somebody manifested another
telling by making one history
after the coming of franklin in 1848
erasing some memories and names
we remember and pronounce

Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park
El Paso del Norte, Tejas
Chihuahuan Desert

Influenced by the poem “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989” by Lucille Clifton, the poem serves as a counter narrative and a response to my scenic excursion in nature. The coming of Benjamin Franklin Coons, for whom the mountains are now named, changed local economies, geographies, and names.

Photo 4 of Rodriguez RJ Wyler Aerial Tramway 05022015 Photo Credit Anjan...
R. Joseph Rodríguez atop the Ranger Peak. Credit: Anjanette Darrington (2015)

In all forms, poetry reminds us to be human and humane. Poetry can transform and fuel our imagination as we gain understanding and reflect on the poem’s conversation alongside our living experience. In the essay “Pintura: Palabra” found in the March 2016 issue of Poetry, Francisco Aragón connects Latino visual artists with poets for the “creation of art-inspired poetry” to advance a dialogue. (587). I found it revealing how poetry and life become essential, vital, and genuine in our everyday through the arts and in our classrooms.

With our students, we can experience the vital and reciprocal relationships that poetry can fuel in our everyday lives. This effect can occur across literary tables with memories, stories, and names we seek, find, and pronounce to make poetry come alive.

R. Joseph Rodríguez is assistant professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. His research interests include children’s and young adult literatures, socially responsible biliteracies, and academic writing. Catch him virtually @escribescribe or via email: rjrodriguez6@utep.edu.

Works Cited

Aragón, Francisco. “Pintura: Palabra Introduction.” Poetry 207.6. (March 2016). 587-588. Print.

Hirshfield, Jane. Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. New York: Knopf,         2015. Print.

Moore, Marianne. Observations: Poems. Ed. Linda Leavell. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux,  2016. Print.

Rodr‘guez, Rodrigo Joseph. “Variation on a Theme by Lucille Clifton.” Unpublished poem.  2016. Print.

Where Equality and Freedom are School Values

Nova staff and students
Nova staff and students.

Last week’s piece about the Nova Project explored two benefits of democratic societies that also seem to benefit democratic schools like Nova: a better educated population, and a population more enthusiastic about their society’s (their school’s) success.

But there are two more benefits that may be part and parcel with democracy as well: a responsible freedom, and a culture of equality.

Teacher Brian Charest, who left teaching in a traditional high school to teach ELA at Nova, reports that equality is certainly a benefit found here. Traditional high schools, he says, divide students into at least three tiers: advanced, general, and special-needs. But at Nova, where students work with teachers to create the classes they want, where students choose the classes they take and can choose independent study as well, tiers aren’t needed any more than tiers are needed in colleges. Students work enthusiastically and at their own pace.

Students are not ranked or judged with grades, either. All courses at Nova are pass/no pass. But to receive a passing grade in any course, Charest says, students must present a project that demonstrates their mastery of the subject. “In some ways I feel like we’re a more rigorous program academically than some of the traditional schools. . . . You can’t fill out a worksheet and say, ‘Hey, look, I’ve demonstrated competency.’ You really have to be able to show clearly that you understood, that you learned something.”

Most public schools struggle with bullying. At Nova, students work to be more sensitive to one another. Students form various committees to help them express their needs. There is a committee dedicated to supporting LGBTQ students, another for students from racial minorities, and more. Students who have been bullied in other schools, Charest says, are delighted to find Nova a welcoming environment. Every floor of the student-run school, in fact, has three restrooms: one male, one female, and one gender-neutral, so transgender students can know that they, too, belong at this school.

Equality between students and staff is part of Nova’s culture as well. The staff does not dictate what classes students take but supports them in following their own curiosity. This freedom can require some adjustment for youth inured to traditional K–12 schools.

“There is a real process of unlearning that has to happen,” Charest says. “Many students start Nova not quite knowing what to make of it. ‘What do you mean I can pursue my own interests?’ Given the choice to learn what you want, a student is suddenly faced with an often overwhelming number of choices. We work hard to support students through this discomforting, yet ultimately liberating, experience. And, over time, most students begin to embrace the deep learning that happens through inquiry.“

And as students take ownership of their education, their new-found freedom seems quickly joined by a sense of responsibility, leading students to get a stronger education. Principal Mark Perry says that, while he opposes standardized testing, Nova complies with all testing requirements, and he finds the test results satisfying. Nova students score as well in math as do students at traditional high schools that “teach to the test,” and Nova students actually score better in reading and writing.

“I attribute most of this to our liberal arts curriculum that is not driven by Common Core or [various standardized tests],“ says Perry.

And what happens to Nova students after they graduate?

“Students who go to a four-year college report back to us that what they learned [at Nova] about personal time management, making good choices, and their use and understanding of depth of analysis in all subject areas gives them an advantage over other students, [including] many who come from elite or AP programs,” says Perry. “We also have colleges like Mills and other liberal arts schools who directly contact us to recruit because of the success of our graduates at their schools.”

After teaching in more traditional school settings, Charest sees clearly the benefits of a democratic school. He says:

What I don’t understand is why our public officials, including school boards and local school district administrators, aren’t doing more to encourage and support the creation of more schools like Nova. There’s a lot of talk these days by so-called education reformers about the need for more innovation and collaboration in schools, but then these folks turn around and open a charter school that looks almost exactly like the school the charter was meant to replace (i.e. they continue to do school in very traditional ways). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every school should look like Nova, but I do think it would be great to give teachers, students, and parents the ability to shape curriculum and decide for themselves what’s worth knowing and doing.



If you missed our interview with Brian Charest last week, read it here.