“They cannot shoot my dreams, they cannot kill my beliefs, and they cannot stop my campaign to see every girl and every boy in school.” — Malala Yousafzai
In light of what has happened in Paris, France this week, the freedom of expression, the power of literature, and promoting empathy among my students is key. This week didn’t spark this objective, it has been my objective teaching middle school English these past two years. The books that I have decided to teach all focus on the central idea of peace, acceptance, and the power of words.
My eighth grade students began the school year reading To Kill a Mockingbird and are now reading the memoir Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals about her experiences as one of the Little Rock Nine integrating into an all white Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Many of my students are also reading the young readers edition of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick and participating in weekly twitter chats to discuss the book all month long for one of the “Going for the A” assignments. [Students contract for an A or a B for 40% of their quarterly grade. The assignments are for students interested in taking English honors in high school next year.]
While watching on the news and reading news feeds about the tragic events that happened in Paris, There are many parallels with Malala Yousafzai’s experiences as a target of the Taliban in Pakistan and Charlie Hebdo. Malala’s interest, passion, and mission is in the education of all children, girls and boys. From the time Malala was little she learned that words are powerful. Melba Patillo Beals also shows in her memoir that words can hurt and words can help change the world.
Steven Wolk writes in Caring Hearts & Caring Minds: Literature, Inquiry, and Social Responsibility (2013), “After reading a good book we can be changed.” Reading both fiction and non fiction with students allows students to question, think, and analyze. As much as teachers are teaching reading skills these days, teachers need to address and explore topics relevant to what is going on in our world today and social responsibility with the texts utilized in the classroom.
Introducing diverse texts into your classroom is the first step in promoting democracy and a culture of caring. It is also what you do with the literature once you have students read these texts. We want students to read critically and question the texts that they are reading. Make connections with larger world issues and inspire students to want to help make the world a better place. Let students research and report on topics that are important to them with project based learning opportunities and Genius Hour. At the end of the school year I not only want students to be better readers and writers, but my hope is that hey never lose sight of their dreams and know they have the potential to make a difference in the world.