Colorblindness and the Media- Monday, September 22, 2014

Today, we’re going to build on the ideas of ascribed, personal, and collective identity that we explore with this unit.  As we talked about yesterday, the idea of race is ultimately a social construct. This social construct often influences how people perceive and prejudge us – our ascribed identity. Worse yet, it can lead to acts of extreme prejudice and injustice like the profiling experienced by Adama in Patriot Acts. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why people are sometimes uncomfortable talking explicitly about race, leading to a “colorblind” approach to viewing society.

In today’s Colorblind Media Lesson Plan, we will start by discussing the difference between “colorblind” and “multicultural” discussions of society using the example of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. When King famously said,Image “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” was he pointing toward a society where differences are never discussed, or one where differences are embraced?  How do we combat racism, inequality, and prejudice without discussing race (or class, for that matter)?

To explore these and other questions, I’ve created an Anticipation Guide, which we will use in class to explore our opinions at the beginning and end of class.  After completing the “before reading” column of the Anticipation Guide, we will focus on how these questions played out in the news surrounding a controversial topic: the media and its potential for bias.  We will watch a Jon Stewart clip on the media coverage of Ferguson: .

As a class, we’ll think about the statistics behind “colorblind” policies like “Stand your Ground” that have uneven impacts.

Then in small groups, we will analyze the way images can change the tone of a story without changing any facts by learning about the #ifiweregunneddown movement and looking at some of the Trayvon Martin media coverage.  As we investigate these perspectives as a group, we’ll discuss how they support or go against our original opinions on the Anticipation Guide.  Finally, we’ll mark whether our opinions have changed in the “After Reading” column as we have a whole-class discussion on whether it’s better to use a “colorblind” or “multicultural” approach as we discuss and fight against injustice.
Gordon Parks American, 1912–2006 Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1948 Gelatin silver print Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Gordon Parks
American, 1912–2006
Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1948
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and copyright
The Gordon Parks Foundation

We’ll also talk briefly about how the “Stand Your Ground” topic relates to broader discussions of human rights, and what we think we will observe on our field trip to the Gordon Parks exhibit at the Fralin.  The exhibit shows a collection of the photos taken for Park’s 1948 Life magazine photo-essay Harlem Gang Leader, and asks us to look at what was omitted from the magazine’s portrayal of “Red” Jackson.

I’ve been thinking about the “colorblind” question a lot as I reflect on how we as students, educators, and community members can work together to combat prejudice and injustice.    This is a complex issue, but I feel that it is a vital one to address as we work toward building a more just and equitable society – from CHS to Charlottesville and beyond.  Feedback and reflections would be greatly appreciated as we revise this lesson for the future!

Banned Curriculum in Tuscon, Arizona

This is the presentation that one of our high school classmates gave last week in response to learning more about Banned Books after watching the film, Precious Knowledge. Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years were two books that the students in La Raza studies read that were banned, and this presentation created a lively debate about the purposes of banning books and what is “appropriate” to read and at what age. This discussion was particularly timely since Banned Books Week is September 21-27.

Banned Books Week Poster

If you want to know what books were recently banned and/or challenged in 2013-2014 please click to go to the American Library Association’s report.

Impacts of Cultural Norms-Friday September 12, 2014

Shoutout to Wendy from the Fall 2013 cohort for contributing this lesson! As a way to follow-up on the idea of ascribed identity and explore a little more about what it means for us as individuals, today we will talk about cultural norms with a lesson plan inspired by the novel Americanah.  I chose to feature the cover that was on the Spanish language version because the imagery really ties into the ideas of citizenship and belonging that we have been analyzing in class.

Spanish Language cover

This novel brought home to me the idea that my cultural identity really influences the types of things I take for granted and how strange these things might seem to someone with a different cultural identity, so I decided to build this lesson plan around that idea of cultural norms. On June 27, 2013, interviewer Terry Gross hosted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on her NPR show Fresh Air. Adichie is a novelist who grew up in Nigeria before moving to America to attend college. Her most recent novel is called Americanah, and in the interview she reads an excerpt  based on events from her own life. We will listen to the first 12 minutes or so of this interview, found here, then we will talk about how people learn “norms” — acceptable and unacceptable behaviors for or society. (Here is a link to the transcript, in case you want to follow along.) These vary widely depending on cultural traditions and cultural identities and history. As a way to explore this idea further, students will meet in groups and create a list (using pictures or words) of norms for a particular place. Then the group will come back together, check out each others’ work, and discuss whether we all agree with the norms represented, or if there are different norms even within this classroom.

The take-away for today is to remember that norms are very specific to a time, place, and society or group.  As Adichie says, “Race is a social construct.” The implications of that statement can be quite broad, so I’m really interested to see what comes out in this conversation and to see what comments you have about this idea.

The Impacts of Ascribed Identity- Thursday, September 11, 2014

Since students have been expressing the feeling that identity is not an important issue, I thought it would be important to discuss some of the impacts of ascribed identity explicitly.  As it is the anniversary of 9/11, this Ascribed Identity Lesson Plan evolved from The Power of the Story: The Voice of Witness Teacher’s Guide to Oral History and our university students.  The goal is to build a sense of the consequences that people’s presumptions about identity can have on other people’s lives.  patriot_act_narratives_of_injustice_lores

The Identity Box worksheet was created to go along with this lesson. I used excerpts from Patriot Acts, a book in the Voices of Witness series because they tell stories that we don’t often hear about 9/11 that were collected using oral history.  We hope that students learn more about history as a living entity that has myriad perspectives from techniques like oral history.  As teens in New York, Adama’s story is about one 16-year old Muslim girl and Gurwinder’s Story is about a 19-year old Sikh boy.  Looking forward to comments about how this lesson worked!  Let me know if you think there is anything that could be improved in the future.

UPDATE: Our students found our identity box activity so powerful and interesting, they have decided to create a schoolwide action called “Beyond the Boxes.”  University and High school students created a interview station during lunch time so that they could do oral histories of their own and interview members of Charlottesville High School about the way that they transcend the boxes that people place them in.  Stay tuned for the finished project!

Returning to Speak to think about citizenship- Friday, September 5

Let me first start off by giving a shout out to Sean from our UVa Fall 2013 class for his contributions to the next couple of lessons! Using the lens through which we investigated ideas of identity, perception, belonging and how we go about defining our identity, this lesson thinks about where that definition might place us as citizens, not just of a country, but of a community or a classroom.  For example, I am an American citizen, but I am also a member of the UVA community. So a broad national identity begins the process of defining my identity, but can be narrowed down to a student who lives in Charlottesville and attends UVA,  making my identity a little more specific.

With that sort of categorization in mind, the Speak to citizenship lesson is an effort to help us take a look at some of the ways in which we choose to present ourselves to the world, and how those decisions classify us as individuals and as citizens of a group or community as we revisit Speak.

Cover of the first edition of the book, which was later made into a movie starring Kristin Stewart,

Some things to think about as you prepare for, or reflect on, this lesson might be the way in which all of the details of who we are weave themselves together to create a person who is much more complicated than our physical selves show. How do we, as members of a relatively small community, fit into the very large community of the world? It may seem a little diluted, but the worksheets, Worksheet #1 – favorite things is meant to be used in conjunction with the opening pages of Speak ; Worksheet #2 – lesson day 2 and movie clip, were meant to help guide us into the discussion by looking at a movie, 8 Mile, that does an interesting job of navigating issues of identity along social and racial lines.