Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Shaking up ELA

I recently did a short presentation for Oklahoma Council of the Teachers of English. I submitted a proposal with a sketchy idea and a terrible title: “Shaking up ELA.” But, I knew I wanted to talk about seriously changing what we teach in ELA.

About a month before the presentation, my husband and I were talking. I wrote my thoughts so I wouldn’t lose them. I did little revision because it actually turned out well.

Basically, I envision huge curriculum changes in ELA—otherwise, how will we change the system? Yes, the system needs changing because all we’re doing is upholding the status quo.

Mostly, I ad libbed and spoke from the heart (I really wish I’d recorded it so I could reflect), but I’ll include the tangible pieces.

Ultimately, I stressed how what we say AND our silence speaks volumes to our students. And, we can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Teaching is a political act—whether we like it or not.

Here’s the quick Prezi I shared: https://prezi.com/p/ivfoptpik4an/

At the end, I read the note I’d written:

I'm tired of perpetuating the system. Every time I choose a white author over any other author. Every time I choose male over other genders. Every time I choose hetero over other sexualities. Every time I chose the same works/authors rather than even entertain something outside the Holy Canon. Every time I consciously, or subconsciously, choose the status quo, I reaffirm the systemic inequities.

I think it's wonderful we had several sessions about "introducing" different authors into our curriculum, but the time for introduction is over. We're not looking at groups of people that suddenly sprang up overnight. We've had decades to "introduce" Black authors, Muslim authors, Gay authors, Transgender authors, Latino authors, Cherokee authors, Choctaw authors (yep, there's more than one group of Native Americans).

These marginalized groups have fought, bled, died for their right to be off the margins. Why does the status quo insist on pushing back or trotting out palatable works by accepted "representatives" of certain groups at certain times of the year?

It's time (really, it's past time) for us, ELA teachers--especially Whites--to lead the charge. It's time for us to stop introducing and to get out of our own way. It's time to let other voices be heard. Those voices already exist; we have to stop actively and passively suppressing them. It's 2017: you can no longer claim ignorance or laziness or comfortableness. Our comfort hurts our students. How? By denying them a right to see themselves in books and movies. By not showing them authors just like them who see and understand them. By only showing them the plight of those "poor people" instead of also sharing the triumphs. By showing them that status quo is the only acceptable path.


Now is the time to shake up ELA. If not us, then who?

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