Renée Watson on #StoriesForAll

Renée Watson is a frequent contributor to Rethinking Schools. Her most recent article, “Mirrors and Windows: Conversations with Jacqueline Woodson,” appeared in the fall issue of Rethinking Schools and is featured in our upcoming book, Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality. We wanted to make sure you saw this thought-provoking blog on how racist and sexist thinking about marketing can limit which children read which books.


This blog post was featured on Bloomsbury’s Tumblr in hopes that by opening up a dialogue among authors and gatekeepers, we can fight the harmful practice of genderized reading and make all books truly accessible to all genders.

This Side of Home Cover

There’s a feeling I get in the pit of my stomach whenever I see a message from my editor in my inbox with a subject line that says, Cover. I take deep breaths before I click the email open because I know that in many cases, the cover sells the book. The cover is a marketing tool. One image is supposed to convey the essence of the entire novel, while also being aesthetically pleasing, while also whispering to readers, “This book is for you.” And then of course, there are my own feelings. I want to be proud of the cover. That image will be side by side with me on book tours, on posters and flyers for events. I need to like it, want to love it.

I’m sure all authors have some degree of anxiety over the cover. I’m going to assume that female authors who write stories where the main character is a girl might have even more anxiety because we know that books with girls on the cover get put in the “For Girls Only” category. I know many authors have experienced doing author visits to girl-only audiences because the school thought their male students wouldn’t relate to the author, to her book. What this teaches young people is that stories by and about females are less than stories by and about men. It teaches young boys to silence the female voice, to disregard it, to give it less weight than their own.

As an author who is black and female, who writes stories about young black girls, I know that many librarians and teachers will only recommend my book to black girls. And let me say, that I want black teenaged girls to read my work. I hope they see their experiences mirrored in the pages. But I also hope my work opens up the world a bit for readers who are not black, not female. That they learn new perspectives, that they find ways to relate with the characters who maybe seemed so different from them. Most importantly, I want books by and about women, stories by and about people of color, to be made available for all readers. Because our stories matter. Because the young people sitting in our classrooms, coming to our libraries, will soon be adult citizens who will need the life skill of empathy and the ability to understand and analyze themselves, their society, and contribute in a positive way. They will need to understand the importance of valuing many viewpoints.

I am thankful for the educators, librarians, and parents who have shared my work with young people regardless of their ethnicity or gender. These gatekeepers know that themes of loss, change, resilience, love, and redemption are universal. These gatekeepers are committed to pushing against the norm and asking themselves, What if we recommended books to young readers based on the quality of the story, not if the cover has a girl or boy on it? What if we were intentional about making sure young readers have a variety of stories to choose from where protagonists may or not look like them or come from places similar to the place they live? What if the cover of a book that looked “different” or “too girly” or “too ethnic” was seen not as a deterrent but an invitation to step outside of oneself? What if stories were for everyone?


More From Renée Watson

Renée’s “Art is Action Blog”: http://reneewatsonauthor.tumblr.com/

You can find more information at her website: http://www.reneewatson.net/

Teaching Social Justice through Fashion: a blog post that highlights Moriah Carlson and her fashion class at DreamYard.

Beginning the Journey Towards Social Justice: Baltimore. Charleston. Ferguson. How do arts education leaders respond? To help answer this question, The National Guild recently spoke with Renée about her work with
DreamYard & other arts-ed organizations that are hoping to align their internal structures and practices with a justice-driven mission.

National Writing Project’s Radio Interview: Listen to Renéeread from This Side of Home & talk about why she writes.

Books on Home, History & Hope: Renée shares some of her favorite books to use in the classroom & to give as gifts to young readers with Multnomah County libraries.

Mirrors and Windows: Conversations with Jacqueline Woodson by Renée Watson: Jacqueline andRenée have a follow up conversation to their Between the Lines event at the Schomburg Center for Rethinking Schools. Want even more from these two writers? Click HERE


Renée’s Fall Events

After a summer break from touring, Renée will be back on the road again for book events and readings. Visit www.reneewatson.net for event details, updates and changes.

OCTOBER

10/23, 10am
Behind the Book Author Visit
Brooklyn

10/27, 10am
Behind the Book Author Visit
Brooklyn

NOVEMBER

11/5, 12noon
Writers In The Schools
Workshop
Portland

11/6, 10am
Author Visit, MLC School
Portland

11/7, 10am-5pm
Wordstock Festival
Portland
*Check HEREfor full schedule

11/11, 9:30am-4:30pm
National Guild Pre Conference: Social Justice Beyond the Classroom:
Moving Toward Equity and Organizational Change
Philly

11/14, 9am-12noon
The Art of Peace: creative approaches to conflict transformation
University of San Diego

11/19, 1:30pm – 3:00pm
NCTE Conference:
Black Lives Matter in Your Classroom
Minneapolis

11/21, 8am-9:15am
NCTE Conference:
Bringing Voice to the Voiceless: Writing Persona Poems
Minneapolis

Links we liked this week: May 4, 2014

Oops!  We scheduled this to post on Saturday, but something went awry. Now we’re a few days late, but we think these links are still worth a look. 

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones) by Dolores Inés Casillas via Sounding Out! Librarian and Rethinking Schools contributor Rachel Cloues alerted us to this thoughtful critique of the Skippyjon Jones series.

Post-patriarchy? We Still Have Much to Learn (and Teach) by Jody Sokolower  via Common Dreams. What started as a post here on our blog ended up at one of our favorite news and opinion sites.

Charter Schools Fail: New Report Calls Their ‘Magic’ Into Question, by Jeff Bryant, via Common Dreams. Bryant writes “In even the most casual treatments of education, charter schools are now regarded by many as a given “improvement.” (For those of you who watch NBC’s “Parenthood,” you saw that in this season’s episodes.) Bryant calls this glib pro-charter propaganda into question.

Teaching Untold Stories About Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by Moé Yonamine via Zinn Education Project. By now, many of us have heard of the Japanese American internment in the US during World War II. But very few of us know anything about the U.S.-ordered internment of Japanese Latin Americans — 2,300 individuals from 13 Latin American countries who were forcibly brought to the US and imprisoned during the war.

Pearson Wins Major Contract From Common Core Testing Consortium by Sean Cavanaugh via Education Week. We want to make clear that we don’t really “like” this link, but include it because it unfortunately confirmed our beliefs about the CCSS. For those who think the CCSS is an earnest and sincere attempt to improve schools, think again.

Rethinking Cinco de Mayo, by Sudie Hofmann via Zinn Education Project. As one person commented on our Facebook page after seeing this article, “Less beer. More truth.”  Need we say more? Read it.

Louis C.K. Takes Aim at Common Core… And We’re All Smarter for It, by Diane Ravitch via Common Dreams. Even we can’t resist pop culture sometimes. “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”

Whitewash: How ‘The New York Times’ Just Rewrote the History of Sports, by Dave Zirin via The Nation. “From boxer Muhammad Ali to the Donald Sterling saga, Timothy Egan’s recent New York Times op-ed is a whitewash of the progressive history of sports.” 

Last year, 25 hedge fund managers earned more than double every kindergarten teacher combined by Matthew Yglesias, via Vox. Who doesn’t love an occasional interesting factoid? Can you say ‘Capitalism run amok?’

Chicago Teachers Union votes to oppose Common Core Standards by Becky Schlikerman via Chicago Sun-Times. New York teachers have taken this bold step as well (and need our support, by the way). Who’s next?

Links we liked this week: April 20, 2014

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

abolition-earthday-posters4An Earth Day Message: Take Heart from the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow. April 22 was Earth Day, and Rethinking Schools curriculum editor (and resident environmental justice expert), penned this column for our Zinn Education Project’s “If We Knew Our History” series.

DeColores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, maintained by Rethinking Schools contributor Beverly Slapin. A blog filled with astute reviews and essays. Teachers and parents — and anyone who reads — will find the blog to be a valuable resource.

Protecting Classrooms from Corporate Takeover: What Families Can Learn from Teachers’ Unions, by Amy B. Dean, via Yes! Magazine. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Union, led by its president and one of the founding editors of Rethinking Schools Bob Peterson, is prominently featured in this well done article.

Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America’s Expanding: What’s Wrong With That?, by Alexandra Hootnick, via The Nation. The Nation has reliably good coverage on big education issues. Don’t miss the special focus on Teach for America in the spring issue of Rethinking Schools, too.

Jim Crow in the Classroom: New Report Finds Segregation Lives on in U.S. Schools, via Democracy Now! This segment features an interview with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose multi-part investigation “Segregation Now: Investigating America’s Racial Divide” can be found at ProPublica.

Americans Who Tell the Truth: Dave Zirin portrait, by Robert Shetterly. Our favorite sports journalist Dave Zirin was deservedly honored by Americans Who Tell the Truth with one of Robert Shetterly’s incredible portraits. Read about his accomplishments and view the portrait at this link.

Duncan Withdraws NCLB Waiver from Washington State, via the inimitable Diane Ravitch. This news caused quite a stir when we posted it on our Facebook page on Thursday, and rightly so. Ravitch provides a good explanation of what this means and its implications for public schools nationwide. The corporate-led school privatization movement marches on…

Pearson Pays $7.7 Million in Common Core Settlement, by Lindsey Layton via The Washington Post. The entire Common Core enterprise reeks of corruption. Here’s another piece of evidence.

Scholastic and Big Coal Team Up to Bamboozle 4th Graders, by Joan Brunwasser, via OpEdNews.com. An interview with our curriculum editor Bill Bigelow about the successful campaign Rethinking Schools initiated to get Scholastic, Inc. to stop pushing pro-coal propaganda to 4th graders.

Minneapolis Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, by the staff of the Indian Country Today Media Network. Minneapolis is starting a movement. Let’s join them! (Also join the, um. . . . spirited conversation at our Facebook page about this bit of news.)

Getting to Know Grace

GraceGonzalezGrace Cornell Gonzales joined the Rethinking Schools editorial board last spring, and has been an active, enthusiastic, and thoughtful participant ever since. Grace teaches at Daniel Webster Elementary School in San Francisco. We thought you might be interested in getting to know her a little better, so managing editor Jody Sokolower caught up with her after school one recent afternoon.

How did you first get involved with Rethinking Schools?

I was walking by the Rethinking Schools table at the Teachers 4 Social Justice conference in San Francisco a few years ago. This was my third year of teaching in Oakland, and I was in graduate school. I was talking to a friend about a project I was working on, analyzing the political content of picture books about immigration. Suddenly, [curriculum editor] Bill Bigelow was part of our conversation.

“You should write an article about that,” he said. I was so surprised, because he was someone whose writing and teaching I had admired for years. He connected me to you, and you invited me to your house to talk about the article. I don’t think I would have had the gumption to submit an article cold, so it was wonderful to feel welcomed in.

Most of your articles in Rethinking Schools have been about teaching Spanish-speaking students. How did that become a focus for you?

I studied Spanish throughout school but really started to feel bilingual after I lived abroad–spending a trimester in Chile during high school and a year in South America during college. During high school and college, I taught English as a second language to children and adults, in the United States and in Latin America. Along the way, I learned Portuguese, too.

Because of those experiences, I was interested in language education. I was looking for an approach that valued first languages, one that wasn’t based on a deficit model. In college I took a group independent study class that focused on Spanish dual immersion programs–programs in which Spanish speakers learn English and English speakers learn Spanish in the same classroom. I was excited because that model didn’t isolate Spanish-speaking students the way that bilingual programs do.

Now you teach in a dual immersion program. How has reality matched up to theory?

There are definitely more equity issues than I anticipated–how well does this program work for English language learners, or does it turn out to be more for the benefit of the English-speaking students? I see the problems, but I can also see ways to work around them. It’s a fantastic model. We just need to think critically about what we’re doing at every point if we want to serve all children.

How has participating on the editorial board affected your teaching?

It’s a pleasure to read and discuss all the amazing articles as part of the ed board. It’s the interesting political education piece of my life. I’m learning all the time.

Activism–participating on the RS ed board and being part of Teachers 4 Social Justice–allows me to not despair. Before I was working with both organizations, I felt alone, so frustrated by the horrible politics affecting us as educators. I felt personally beaten down. Now, if something awful happens at the school or in the district, I say, “This is part of a larger narrative. We should organize about this.” It gives me hope.

Recent articles by Grace in Rethinking Schools magazine:

7 resources you can use to educate and engage students

In every issue of our magazine, our editors and contributors hand-pick a variety of books, films, websites, and other media for all ages.

Here are seven resources we recommended in our fall issue.

The Speech_frontThe Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream,
by Gary Younge
171 pp., $19.95

You may know Gary Younge from his fine columns on race and politics in The Nation magazine. Here Younge offers the riveting story behind one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The book includes a chapter on “the moment”—an especially valuable look at both the national and international context of 1963; background on the march; an analysis of the speech itself; and commentary on the legacy of the march and speech. As Younge wrote recently: “Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call [the March on Washington] off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one.” This is important background for teachers, but also readable by many high school students.

resources-staysolidStay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth,
edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre
319 pp., $20

There may be school libraries that would deem this book too risqué or soft on drugs. But Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth is a remarkable assembly of testimonies, stories, advice, poetry, cartoons, lessons, short essays, and “other stuff to check out” from more than 100 radical activists divided into diverse subjects, including family, race, gender, school, friends, sex, disability, indigenous struggles, ecocide, and “your physical body.” Sprinkled throughout are rich, evocative quotes. This is not a G-rated book. The text does not adhere to a “Say no to drugs” admonition, and it is joyfully sex-friendly. As one young Teaching for Change intern wrote in recommending this book, “These views are incredibly important in supporting youth to be agents of their own decisions and, at the same time, are radically different from mainstream views.”

EdActivistAlliesEducating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite,
by Katy M. Swalwell
161 pp., $41.95

Katy Swalwell opens this unique book with a quote from the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire: “In the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, [the oppressors] suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” For Swalwell, a Rethinking Schools contributor, critical teaching for social justice benefits everyone—even the very privileged. As such, this work contributes to building a more just society for us all. In this accessible, story-rich volume, Swalwell offers example after example of how educators in different elite contexts attempt to teach for social justice—described in many instances through her own careful observations of their teaching. Interviews with students offer a window into how this teaching was received. This is a valuable book for any educator trying to clarify what it means to teach for social justice, but especially for those who find themselves teaching the children of the wealthy.

resources-gaslandGasland II, directed by Josh Fox
125 min.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas—more commonly known as “fracking”—is one of the scariest technologies on the planet. A recent open letter from Pennsylvania residents described the effects of fracking: “In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish . . . and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime.” Josh Fox’s new film Gasland II illuminates this grim reality. With a blend of storytelling, outrage, science, and, yes, humor, Fox offers a student-friendly look at this technology from hell. The first Gasland film—which featured the now infamous images of residents lighting their kitchen tap water on fire—was nominated for an Academy Award. As Julie Treick O’Neill writes in her Summer 2012 Rethinking Schools article on teaching this earlier film, “Fox was a hit with my students: He was real enough, cool enough, and smart enough to take on fracking.” Gasland II is an important resource to help our students navigate the world’s disturbing new fossil fuel terrain. For middle school and high schools classrooms.

resources-asfastAs Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck,
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
32 pp., $18.95

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school. The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community. This picture book could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

resources-democracynow

Democracy Now! Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
(free podcasts)

We previously included Democracy Now! in the Rethinking Schools resources section. But, as we begin a new school year, we thought that it was worth reminding people that, in our judgment, this is the best Monday-through-Friday news broadcast in the United States. The news headlines that open each hour are a rundown of vital stories often ignored or distorted in the mainstream media. Headlines are followed by several in-depth reports, many of which make ideal classroom viewing: striking fast-food workers, conflict in Egypt, NSA revelations, stop-and-frisk policing, the true history of the 1963 March on Washington, drone strikes, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the climate crisis, and more. One recent episode that could and should be used in class is Cornel West’s critical commentary on President Obama’s talk on race relations following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Each broadcast is available as simple audio or as audio/video. All are archived and available for free at the website.

resources-ifieverIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
373 pp., $17.99

Eric Gansworth’s first young adult coming-of-age novel hits a home run. The main character, Lewis “Shoe” Blake, navigates relationships with family and friends on and off the upstate New York Tuscarora Reservation in the mid-1970s. Debbie Reese, editor of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, alerted us to the novel. She explains that it offers “a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn’t beat anyone up as he does it.” Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith calls it “a heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family, and friendship.”

v28.1This collection of resources from our fall 2013 magazine was reviewed by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow and Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart. Bill and Deborah are also co-directors of the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between the two organizations..

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Lord of the Lies

Bill headshotby  Bill Bigelow

Portland, Oregon language arts teacher, Michelle Kenney, has written a provocative article for Rethinking Schools about some of her curricular choices—and how what seem like great ideas one moment, turn out to embed troubling race and gender biases. I don’t want to give anything away, because there are interesting twists and surprises in her article. But it doesn’t spoil her story to mention that in one encounter included in the article, a parent insists that Kenney teach Lord of the Flies, a book that Kenney detests because of its pessimism about human nature.

It’s a novel I read as a high school sophomore. I found it engrossing, and spent long hours gripped by the conflicts of the boys on the island. But I remember being troubled by the book, and by its conclusion that invited the reader to breathe a sigh of relief as the British Navy arrived to restore order and civilization. Its message: How easy it would be to fall into barbarism, without …. well, without the guns and uniforms and commanding presence of empire.

It seems that Lord of the Flies lingers as a distasteful memory for a lot of us. In her “Outside In” column in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion magazine, on “The Politics of Play,” Jay Griffiths lays into Lord of the Flies, and argues that, not only is it an offensive book, utterly inappropriate for school, but is also flat wrong in its premises.

Lord of the Flies opens with misadventure,” Griffiths writes, “as the children are stranded on the island. An odiously racist text, it describes the group of boys who become the cruel killers as a ‘tribe’ of ‘savages,’ hunting, dancing, chanting, and ‘garlanded,’ with their long hair tied back: ‘a pack of painted Indians.’”

It’s a testament to the pervasiveness of racist stereotypes in today’s society that this novel wasn’t yanked long ago from high school book rooms. It expresses contempt for indigenous cultures, and embraces a cultural hierarchy, with Western empire on top. Lord of the Flies’ portrayal of humanity’s innate savagery justifies the subordination and loss of “lesser” cultures. It’s an especially troubling message these days as global warming-induced rising oceans force indigenous island people—like those on Kiribati, the Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu—to flee their homes.

Griffiths concludes her column with what she calls “a real-life Lord of the Flies incident”—one that offers the exact opposite message from that of the book. Here’s the story Griffiths tells:

One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After 15 months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

These days, the last thing we need is a book like Lord of the Flies that offers a cynical portrait of our inner savage—a savage in need of a system of allegiance pledges and bosses and orders and tests and marching in line; all rooted in the fear of “consequences.”

Yes, we know that people can be violent and greedy. But through and through, we’re better off when the school curriculum is built on the presumption that human beings are capable of cooperation, kindness, intelligence, and solidarity. We ought to choose our literature with that in mind, and we ought to organize school life in a way that nurtures those human qualities.

Related Resources

RethinkingColumbuscvr Rethinking Columbus. Over 80 essays, poems, historical vignettes, and lesson plans re-evaluate the legacy of Columbus. Packed with useful teaching ideas for kindergarten through college.
unlearningindianstereotypes Unlearning Indian Stereotypes (DVD). Narrated by Native American children, the DVD teaches about racial stereotypes and provides an introduction to Native American history through the eyes of children.
ChristensenBooks In Teaching for Joy and Justice, Linda Christensen demonstrates how she draws on students’ lives to teach poetry, essays, narratives and critical literacy skills. Reading Writing, and Rising Up is a practical, inspirational book that offers essays, lesson plans, handouts, and a remarkable collection of student writing, all rooted in an unwavering focus on language arts teaching for justice.

Politics of Naming

Many of you are familiar with the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

storycorps_animationseriesWe’re pleased to announce that this April, Diversity Month, the Zinn Education Project has collaborated with StoryCorps to share resources on the Anglicizing of names.

Featured resources are “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” a community building lesson by Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen on the personal and cultural significance of naming, and an animation by StoryCorps called Facundo the Great.

You can also find a list of books and resources for the classroom on the politics and practices of naming for grades K-12 at the Zinn Education Project website.

In the animation of his Storycorps interview, Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez recounts how names at his elementary school in Southern California were Anglicized. It’s a funny yet poignant resource that can be used at different grade levels. In “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” Linda Christensen shares a classroom-tested teaching strategy to elicit student stories about the importance of naming.

Excerpt from “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story”

tosaythename_rwru‘To say the name is to begin the story,’ according to the Swampy Cree Indians. In my English courses we begin our ‘story’ together by saying our names—and by telling the history of how we came to have them. Because the first day of class lays a foundation for the nine months to follow, I want our year to begin with respect for the diverse cultural heritages and people represented not only at Jefferson High School, but in the world.

“We also speak—using student knowledge as well as mine—of how historically some groups of people were denied their names. Many people from Eastern Europe had their names shortened at Ellis Island because their names were too long and too difficult for officials to pronounce. When Africans were stolen from their homeland, their names and their history were stripped as well.”

Download PDF to read more.

“To Say the Name” is one of more than a dozen lessons and articles in our book, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.

Facundo the Great

Facundo the Great is an animation that accompanies a story told by Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez about the painful history of school authorities Anglicizing students’ names—in the process, stripping children of their family history and identity. With a humorous twist, Sanchez recounts how the administration calls an emergency meeting to discuss how to abbreviate the name of a new student, Facundo. If Ramón becomes Ray, what happens to Facundo?

Let us know if you use the animation and lesson in your classroom.

You can also listen to Stories of Teaching People’s History from the Zinn Education Project 2011 collaboration with StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative.