Discuss Here!!! Book Club

Good evening educators,

We’ll use this thread for our discussion on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  The questions are “How can I positively impact the education of AA students?” and “How do we sustain positive cultures, and how can we motivate and inspire students to learn?”  These questions provide a frame for our discussion; however, our discussion is not limited to these questions.  Feel free to pose your own questions.

First Book Club text !!!

Between the world and me picture

We at The Young Scholar Society are excited to begin our Book Club!  The first text we are reading and discussing is the critically acclaimed Between the World and Me by Genius Grant recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates.

After talking with educators from all over, after informal surveying and student conversations we find that many students do not attend church regularly (Although some research suggests Black church attendance isn’t following the broader trend of decline).  I strongly believe in the positive impact of youth regularly attending mass or church services.  Church service and mass function as spaces for learning (morals, traditions, values, interpretation, orality, and the fine arts among other types of knowledge) and the practice of gratitude – spaces almost necessary for social growth.

Between the World and Me is a text wherein Coates writes a letter to his teenage son explaining Black life and survival in the United States among many other things. However, and interestingly,Ta-Nehisi Coates does not believe in a “Supreme God of justice, law, or morality”.  While Coates maintains that he has allowed his son access to religious traditions, the questions still become:  Where do students like Coates and their sons get morality training?  How do they cultivate hope and engage in hope as theory and as daily practice?  Some think the church has become a space that is no longer appealing, necessary, or relevant to this generation, and as unfortunate as this may sound, this is a reality.

This lens is limited as there are many, but Coates’ book allows us to critically examine this reality and discuss and offer ways in which to answer our general guiding questions. In these times, the perspective of faculty and staff is utterly imperative.  As Coates is the recipient of the Genius Grant, it is truly possible that his book offers necessary insight into the heart of American education.

The official date for the online discussion/forum is Sunday, November 29th.  For many educators this is the day after Thanksgiving break.  For those looking for a great read during the break, here it is!  Book lovers spread the word! The Facebook group link and Twitter hashtag are forthcoming.

P.S. For those who’ve already read and would like to get started on another necessary read, the book for December is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

Contact Mr. Clifford at LeMar.Clifford@gmail.com

Instructional Practices Reflection: English Texts and Curriculum Development

I came across an interesting article from a summer 2014 edition of the English Journal entitled “Beyond the Stacks: Why High School English Teachers Should Be Talking about Books.” In it author Kierstin Thompson questions the relativeness of literature taught today.  Her central concern has much to do with canonical literature taught in high schools.  She queries whether strategies or the texts themselves are important, and she questions the texts (the canon, multicultural literature, nonfiction, young adult) used as well.

At the beginning of the article, Thompson points out that literacy coaches and specialists were placed into schools in 2001-2005 with the awarding of grants right after NCLB legislation, and Literacy Specialists began to provide professional development regarding reading and comprehension strategies.  She argues, however, this created somewhat of a problem – that there was a pedagogical gap between literary instruction and reading instruction.  Quoting Lisa Schade Eckert, Thompson contends that literary instruction is focused on “intellectually lofty, highly theorized definitions of literary interpretation” while reading instruction focuses on “repetitive, skills-based instruction.”

Now, the new Common Core State Standards have “Reading Literature Standards” that require the strategy of close reading along with the comparing of stories from different genres and eras (she points out standards RL. 8-10.9 and RL. 11-12-9).  Thompson maintains standards such as these are more akin to literary interpretation rather than reading instruction, and as such, teachers will have to change the ways in which they teach texts; furthermore, the CCSS “might inadvertently encourage [teachers] to abandon the multicultural YA texts they’ve previously integrated into their classrooms.”  I am not exactly sure what she means at this point, but there is the implication that such texts have no literary value, and if that is the argument, I disagree, and my disagreement will require another article.

After interviewing a gamut of teachers, Thompson found that teachers look at a text’s “genre, literary era, student interest, student ability, aesthetic value, and point of view” – the text’s “literary value” and “pedagogical potential.”  She also claims, and this is unfortunate, teachers miss opportunities for students to see other perspectives or to think more deeply, for teachers shy away from books that are perceived as possibly contentious fearing “criticism, district reprimand or worse.”  I find this highly problematic – the idea of self-censorship.  By engaging in this type of thinking, we do a disservice to the students we teach.  Literature is supposed to be provocative, and any educator know this as fact.  A fellow NEH Scholar, Trina Williams, put it this way, “Literature transforms and transports kids in ways unimaginable, and it transfers to students the level of passion, realism that a teacher cannot provide” (paraphrased).  Never should we not teach a text because of possible controversy.

Finally, Thompson writes that teachers should engage in professional development that focuses on literary literacy.  And she offers some of her own professional experience:

  • Read a text that stretches you as a reader
  • Invite colleagues to read a book with you
  • Ask to pilot a text
  • Propose a professional development opportunity focused on literature

According to Thompson, reading and discussing a poem or short story is enjoyable for English teachers (even if determining curricular value is secondary).  But most importantly, it also reminds us of what our students go through.

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