Great Conversations Over Outstanding Essays on Students’ Civic Futures

Teachers, get yourselves in on some excellent online conversations about students’ civic education and participation.

The online project “Writing Our Civic Futures” features an essay by an outstanding educator each month — but the twist is that it includes a facility for readers to comment and carry on side discussions about the issues and ideas raised in the essay. Anyone can read the comments, but you must sign up and sign in with a free annotation service, in order to add your own thoughts.

The December essay is “Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives” by Linda Christensen, from the March 2017 issue of Voices from the Middle. (Click the little left-pointing caret-arrow at the top right of the page to see the many comments — or click on the essay text to get them out of the way.) Christensen describes her journey to more meaningful teaching and learning in which she has come to focus on helping students find and effectively use their voices to address the important issues in their lives. As she puts it:

Teaching language arts means plumbing my students’ lives to bring their stories and voices into the classroom.

These days I attempt to teach a critical literacy that equips students to “read” power relationships at the same time it imparts academic skills. I try to make my literacy work a sustained argument against inequality and injustice. I want my students to be able to “talk back” when they encounter anything that glorifies one race, one culture, one social class, one gender, one language over another: texts, museums, commercials, classes, rules that hide or disguise domination. A critical literacy means that students probe who benefits and who suffers, how did it come to be this way, what are the alternatives, and how can we make things more just?

Christensen goes on to describe a unit on gentrification (that makes me extremely jealous as a teacher) built first around students’ writing about struggles in — or good things about — their own homes. Then they read both fiction and informational material about the issue. An inspiring and powerful project. Christensen works with students in a struggling neighborhood, but I expect that the unit would be highly enlightening for young people in better-off areas as well.

So get on board! And by the way, a piece by me will be featured next May, so I hope you’ll have plenty to say (whether agreeable or challenging) when my turn comes.

Civic Action in Schools

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By Steve Zemelman, Director, IL Writing Project; author, “From Inquiry to Action;” co-author, “Subjects Matter” & “Best Practice;” Restorative Justice advisor