The following blog post is from a final project for one of my graduate classes this fall at Michigan State University – TE849: Methods and Materials for Teaching Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
Text Set Final Project Assignment
Part I – Selection and discussion of the theme(s)
The project asked me to build upon my work and understanding from the semester by creating a text set around a particular theme. For the text set project, I selected activism and identity as two themes that my text set focuses on and challenges both myself and students to think about.
I find that activism is a theme that students may either know a ton about or may have no idea about. Both of these extremes are due to how a student was raised, social and political beliefs of their parents/guardians, life experiences, etc. With these various experiences and understanding of what activism is, I believe it is important to start with students’ prior knowledge and experiences with activism and value them to then move toward a neutral and central understanding. “Activism” in this unit will be described as “an action to bring about change.”
Activism is a growing story line and breaking news feature in today’s highly digitized world. Whether my students are learning about activists through social media or an Article of the Week in my classroom, they need to be aware of it for themselves and the community of people around them. People are attempting to let their voices be heard for the identities they represent as governments, institutions, and leaders are moving forward with outdated agendas.
The other theme that this text set will focus on is identity or “the elements of oneself that make up who they are.” Identity has been and still is a popular theme for an assigned text to consider. In today’s world too many of the texts that teachers are required to teach come from dead white men. These types of texts do not represent the growing diversity among the student body that I teach every single day.
The Hate U Give would be a perfect addition to my curriculum, so I have selected it as the central text for this unit focusing on activism and identity. This novel by Angie Thomas was the most riveting one that I read in this graduate course and it gave me a lot of thoughts and feelings about activism and identities that my students face each day. This text would also provide my students with a fiction-based example of activism leading into the Take Action Project, which is an activism-based student inquiry project where students take on a topic or issue that they care about from the Article of the Week unit.
I believe The Hate U Give is an excellent example of a character’s struggle to find their true identity AND learning about what it means to be an effective activist. Starr Carter lives in a rough neighborhood called Garden Heights, yet attends a prep school in the white suburbs called Williamson. Each day Starr and her siblings go through multiple identity switches as they travel between the two settings.
At the beginning of the book, Starr transitions smoothly between the two settings by assimilating and code switching with ease. When she is the prime witness to her childhood best friend’s murder by a white police officer, this switching becomes more and more difficult. The incident, its media coverage, an investigation by the police, and the consequences of living in the place where it all happened overwhelm Starr. With all of this riding on her shoulders, which identity will she stick to and will she become an activist?
Students would complete a graphic organizer for each assigned reading section of the book. The graphic organizer would guide students through tasks of summarizing; asking open ended questions for others to consider; analyzing character development with Psychoanalytic Theory; and also analyzing themes of community, the cycle of poverty, dueling identities, and activism.
Part II: Explanations and analysis of the text set
The text set centered around The Hate U Give would include the following texts to support the themes of activism and identity.
“The danger of the single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from TedGlobal2009 (TedTalk)
I have watched and analyzed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk from 2009, “The danger of the single story” in multiple contexts ranging from undergraduate courses, graduate courses, Twitter chats, and professional development meetings.
Adichie describes how she grew up in Africa and would write stories of British people, along with their likes and habits because those were the only stories she was reading about growing up. After she learned about African writers telling African stories, her thinking and storytelling ways changed. Adichie’s argument is that a single story is dangerous to our thinking and understanding of the world.
I feel like my students need to hear this story to understand that there is more to their single story in life. While their story is important, there are other stories that can challenge their thinking if only they listened and valued those stories, too. This TedTalk showcases the theme identity and how a single story can help us understand who we are, but then hold us back from experiencing and knowing about the rest of the world around us. It is a text that may take a few listens or readings, but ultimately, I think it is beneficial for my students to know about.
I would situate this TedTalk into an Article of the Week format that way students would know what to do upon seeing the assignment. While it would not be an actual Article of the Week assignment, the directions for the reading of the text would be very similar, including annotating, answering questions about the text, and reflecting on the message of the text.
I appreciate the transcript feature on ted.com because it would allow me to make a paper version of the talk in order for students to follow along while I play the talk for them in class. This reading and listening of the TedTalk would occur before we read the novel, but would lay down the definition of a “single story” for us to reference as the novel is read.
“If a story moves you, act on it” by Sisonke Msimang from TedWomen2016 (TedTalk)
I found this Ted Talk by Sisonke Msimang to be an excellent addition to “The danger of a single story” because she references Adichie during her opening monologue about preparing for the talk. I’m not sure if I would include the first 2:15 where this connection takes place, but it might be a good check in to see if students understand the mention.
I feel that the rest of the Ted Talk does an excellent job by continuing to challenge storytelling and how it contributes to the world’s understanding of identity and activism. Rather than just addressing storytelling, as Adichie’s talk does, Msimang addresses it, challenges it, and then challenges the audience to take action and hold each other more accountable for the facts or lack thereof that are being spread in the world.
One of the final points that Msimang makes in the talk is very important for students to consider as they prepare to read The Hate U Give and make connections between the two opening TedTalks and themselves – “audiences need to be more curious, skeptical, and ask more questions about social context.” When we accept stories as is and do not question them, we are perpetuating the single story. I would advise students that there is a respectful way to follow Msimang’s advice and that should be the one that they pursue. I think there could be some danger within both of these TedTalks to nitpick and tear apart people’s stories rather than question and be skeptical as Msimang suggests.
This TedTalk would also be formatted similar to an Article of the Week. The transcript would be reformatted to fit this established understanding of an assignment in my classroom. Students would watch the TedTalk in class, answer important information about the text, and then reflect on both itself as a standstill text and build on Adichie’s words from the previous talk.
“How students of color confront imposter syndrome” by Dena Simmons from Ted Talks Live November 2015 (Ted Talk)
Dena Simmons’s TedTalk described her upbringing in the Bronx, which was full of crime, gunshots to fall asleep to, and, despite a sense of community, danger around every turn. She goes on to describe how her mother whisked her away to a boarding school in New English. Despite feeling safe and sound there from the violence that plagued her home neighborhood, she was up against discrimination and judgement from those at the school, especially teachers who corrected the way she spoke.
Dena Simmons introduced a viewpoint that I have never considered as a white male, especially in terms of my education from kindergarten to now. I have never felt unsafe in the educational context that I have been in. I have never been corrected by a teacher to speak a certain way. I have seen myself in the texts I’ve read for school. I have had white, male teachers teach me in various subjects, as well. Dena Simmons had not and she has a doctorate degree.
This text would be played and assigned just like the other two TedTalks before it within this text set with Article of the Week formalities. The only difference is The Hate U Give would have been started and students would be getting used to Garden Heights Starr and Williamson Starr – the two identities Starr holds in the book.
This read/listen would be provided in the middle of the reading of The Hate U Give in order for students to consider both what they have read and to keep in mind as they continue reading. I would hope that by this point in the novel ALL students would be seeing themselves in Starr in a variety of ways.
When thinking about Simmons’s message and story, I hope that students who do not have to assimilate between their home culture and school culture, would be challenged in their thinking. For students who do have to assimilate, I hope that this text will let them know that there are other people going through similar experiences as them.
The next three texts would make up a mini text set centered around activism and identity associated with black youth being killed by police officers. This text set would be introduced after finishing the novel, The Hate U Give. Each would be assigned as a separate Article of the Week and would culminate in an individual reflection about whether or not Khalil’s, Trayvon’s, Philando’s, or Michael’s killing was justified or not and a class discussion.
“A Look Back on Trayvon Martin’s Death, and the Movement It Inspired” by Karen Grigsby Bates for NPR
This article from NPR was published in 2018, which was nearly six years after Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in Florida. The article reviews the case, both sides of the argument, and the movements that were inspired by it, including Black Lives Matter and the NRA supported Stand Your Ground law.
After students have read The Hate U Give and formed their own opinions about Khalil’s death, I think it is important to make real life connections between fiction and the real world. Trayvon Martin was seventeen when he was killed and my students are close in age to him and/or may have older siblings that could be around the same age.
Identity markers are very present in this incident, as Trayvon had his hood up and was judged for how he appeared to others. Many of my students sport their hoods up as they go about their days and I hope none of them would be judged as Trayvon was while walking through a neighborhood. This story sparked a ton of activism, especially with anti-NRA movements and the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of these examples could show students how people took action similar to how characters took action in the central text by Angie Thomas.
“Protests Flare After Ferguson Police Officer Is Not Indicted” by Monica Davey and Julie Bosman for the New York Times (article)
This article details out how the Ferguson Police officer, Darren Wilson, was not indicted after killing Michael Brown in an apartment complex in Ferguson, MO. The article provides accounts from all sides, along with detailed maps of that fateful day.
This article was difficult for me to read as I have been in the apartment complex where Michael Brown was murdered by Darren Wilson. Prior to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in St. Louis, MO, I went on a writing marathon in Ferguson, MO, and was able to see the small town that I previously saw on the news. The entire trip took my breath away as I listened to the various stories told by the residents and saw the plaque marking when and where Michael Brown was killed.
This is another example of a young black male being shot and killed by a police officer, which has similarities to both Trayvon Martin in the previous article and Khalil in The Hate U Give. Students will be able to draw more connections to the activism that this news story sparked, which are similar to how the characters in the novel reacted when Officer Brian Cruise Jr. was not charged with murdering Khalil.
“Minnesota Officer Acquitted in Killing of Philando Castile” by Mitch Smith for the New York Times (article)
The final piece of both the The Hate U Give text set and the mini-text set to follow the reading of the novel as an Article of the Week, is this one from the New York Times. This article showcases the story surrounding the officer who was acquitted in killing Philando Castile. This situation has many similarities to Khalil’s death in the novel with both the setting being a vehicle, a female companion with him, and the threat of a potential weapon.
Angie Thomas had to have drawn from at least these three examples when writing The Hate U Give because as I read the articles and revisited numerous sources about the instances there were so many similarities between all of them and Khalil’s death and the activism that was enacted.
With this being the final piece of the mini-text set formatted like an Article of the Week, students would reflect on the four killings and be prepared for an in-class discussion to take a closer look at the deaths, the identities of the men, and the activism that occurred afterwards.
Part III: Connections across the issue and the text set
After working through the requirements of the project and reading/listening to the words that the writers, authors, and news reporters are detailing, I believe it is important to remind ourselves that the single story is dangerous. With shootings between police officers and youth of color, we have to be open minded and willing to look at every side of the story before making a final decision about what we think about the situation.
The characters in The Hate U Give experienced the uncertainty of knowing what happened because they, except for Starr, were not there when the police shot Khalil three times and then held his gun on Starr until other officers arrived.
Here’s where I struggle with the texts I have selected and how we are to view stories and people’s accounts: If we are not to believe the single story as Adichie tells us to and we are to be skeptical and ask more questions of a story, should we believe Starr Carter’s account of what happened? Is this an example of an unreliable narrator or not? I would hope that my students would be able to see this challenge and take it in stride as they read and form their own opinions about the main text, The Hate U Give, along with the news stories about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile.
With the themes that the text set has been based around, identity is an important theme for students to consider when reading and listening to these texts, but also with themselves and how they plan to and continue to navigate throughout their lives. Although, adults may scoff at “trivial high school matters” that kids dwell over, it unfortunately plays a bigger role in students’ lives than it did before, especially with the rise in teen suicides and (the threat of) school shootings across the country. Being a positive person in each of my student’s life is always a goal of mine. Helping them realize and understand their identities through the reading of literature is another goal.
It is also my hope that students realize that their voices matter. They are capable of rising up and being an activist with their words and actions. It is a hope that students become strong activists who lead with power and poise instead of violence and anger. After this text set is completed, students would be assigned the Take Action Project, which gives students an opportunity to be a positive activist within the school, local, state, or national community about a topic they have studied in the Article of the Week unit. With the final three texts being a part of that unit with a bit of overlap, students could take on an issue related to The Hate U Give within that project.
What texts/text sets do you use when you teach The Hate U Give or talk about activism and identity in your classroom setting? I would love to add to this text set as I continue to consider The Hate U Give as a viable curricular option.