Reimagining What’s Possible: Activating Literacy as a Pathway to Critical Consciousness
“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”
– Sydney J. Harris
Part One: A Philosophic Introduction
It is our belief in the 11th grade that education should offer the tools necessary to critically examine ourselves and the world in order to connect knowledge to social action in an attempt to leave the world a better place than we found it.
The major theme of our units this year is that by “reading the world” through multiple perspectives, it is possible to look at the various entities that have influenced our society, so that we can become what bell hooks calls “enlightened witnesses.” Using the framework of literary theory as presented in Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English, we will uncover the ideologies that shape society, culture, and ourselves. As we read various texts throughout the year, literary theory will make visible the ideologies that have influenced the writer as well as our own personal interpretations.
In his “Moral Obligations of Living in a Democratic Society,” Cornel West states, “One of the fundamental questions of our day is whether the tradition of struggle…the struggle for decency and dignity, for freedom and democracy…can be preserved and expanded.” During the course of the year, we will explore that struggle through the lenses of history, class, race, and gender as a way to guide and inform us as we expand our perspectives as members of a democracy and as members of the larger human community. Through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning historian Howard Zinn and theorist Dr. Beverly Tatum, we will study the historical efforts of marginalized people to be accepted as full participants in the democratic process and their ability and inability to reap the rewards of that participation.
We will also explore the research of social scientists such as Dr. Howard Gardner and Dr. Daniel Goleman, as well as cultural theorist Dr. bell hooks to gain a greater understanding of how current realities have shaped our personal ideologies, identities, and relationships. Too often through the process of socialization that many of us experience, we are unaware of our own ideologies and how they may prevent us from understanding multiple perspectives other than our own. However, as we explore the world through various lenses we can develop open communication with one another and within social groups that allows for honest dialogue across class, race, and gender boundaries. Our aim is to question, study, and mutually discover the possibilities for greater social responsibility that will allow us “to form a more perfect union.”
Part Two: The CORE 11 American Studies
Our thematic units form the basis of our analysis of American culture from a social ustice perspective. These units are comprised of materials from universities providing us with the most current perspectives on class, race, and gender. Our curriculum is aligned with the research based goals of Multicultural Education in which students are, according to Professor Christine Bennett, “encouraged to develop a ‘critical consciousness’ through which they learn to challenge social injustices.” Because our society is becoming increasingly diverse, we must develop an understanding of how to engage with and see the perspectives of those who are different from ourselves.
The Things We Carry: Fostering Emotional Literacy to Benefit the Collective
This unit will be an introductory exploration of the key concepts and the analytical tools we will use to deconstruct American society through the lenses of class, race, and gender. We will read Tim O’Brien’s acclaimed novel, The Things They Carried and apply various literary, critical lenses, offering students a way to not only read literature, but read themselves and the world around them. To more fully understand the ideologies we subscribe to, we must think critically about our definitions of intelligence, how we are socialized, and how our behavior impacts others, especially when working with others. During this unit there is also a writing workshop to continue the process of developing the foundational skills required for critical analysis and expression.
The American Jungle: Gaining Historical Literacy to Untangle Notions of Democracy, Meritocracy and the American Dream
Our purpose for this unit is to examine our culture through the social class lens, looking at how the concept of meritocracy persists, despite the social realities that are often hidden from our view. We will begin with a series of interdisciplinary workshops using the historical and postcolonial lenses that explore the great irony of the vision for freedom as established in the Constitution, while the realities of slavery and Native American genocide occurred simultaneously. Then we will explore the nature of democracy, meritocracy and the American Dream that have become a part of our American mythology. To do this, we will highlight some of the voices who were critical of the “Dream,” namely the Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and those who despite all of their efforts could not attain success, as seen in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and August Wilson’s Fences. We will conclude the unit by reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quintessential American novel on the unfulfilled lives of the upper class, The Great Gatsby and then and recreating it with our artistic interpretation entitled “The Gatsby Dinner Party.”
Unit 3: Humility and Boldness: Developing Racial Literacy to Expand American Democracy
Through the lenses of Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory, we will explore the history and evolution of race relations in this country. In doing so, we will highlight the multi-racial, multi-faceted perspectives of White people and People of Color, including African Americans, Asians, Latinos, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Arabs, and Bi/Multi-Racial individuals. Additionally, we will analyze how the ideology of white supremacy has influenced racial inequality and shaped social and individual identity, while engaging in honest and direct cross-cultural dialogue with the goal of discovering possibilities to counteract racial injustice.
Unit 4: Unraveling the Gender Knot: Acquiring Gender Literacy to Promote Equity
Our next unit will be a study of our country through the lens of gender, highlighting the effects of patriarchy. We will begin the unit with a look at the constrictive ideologies of what it is to be “male” or “female” and how these limiting gender roles affect the dynamics of relationships. Excerpts from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, and Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek, will give voice to the “intimately oppressed” within the traditional model of gender relations. We will also explore homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism as expressions of fear and ignorance that affect social encounters and prohibit the full expression of identity. Looking carefully at these troubling dynamics can help us meet the challenge to create a truly democratic society.
The year will culminate with a trip to Downtown Los Angeles in order to view our city through the lenses of art and architecture as it reflects the multiple perspectives of class, race, and gender that exist in our diverse urban environment.
We look forward to an engaging and inspiring year!