My advanced placement students are working hard to prepare for their exam next week, and I am struggling with maintaining focus. I want them to know that if they wander into this thing underprepared, the experience will feel like a rockslide. This year we completed all progress checks in the order recommended, just like good soldiers. First this, and then that, all down the unit plan with our theme based repertoire of inspirational readings and writings. We started out with American Indian literature, even old speeches given by long-dead and bitterly disappointed chieftains, and we mingled that with contemporary artists like Joy Harjo, and Simon Ortiz, N. Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie.
We moved on to African Americans and literatures around the Civil Right's struggle, even Malcolm X (whom I love with a passion), and our major figure, Martin Luther King. We looked at the dramatic tone shift in the Eula Biss essay, Time and Distance Overcome, and we paired that with an introduction on discourse modes. My students learned from a brief dive into the digital college library that lynching is indeed an area of academic study, and they learned that not everything is right in America--I am good with that. Our imperfections reside in an ugly heart, the heart that indulges in hate.
We dabbled around in the question of what it means to be a woman in today's world, and we ended our theme-based study with the environment. We looked at the many ways we could stop trashing our planet and how to stop hurting women and children. And now we are in the world of exam prep practice in the midst of a world of meaningful ideas. My students are leaving my class better-informed and more articulate than in the beginning. I am proud of that. I am happy that I could help them lift the veil and look at the reality of today. I am convinced they feel empowered. I want them to know that the written word, their own style and voice, really matter.
The fascist upstart would say that our students need to know a Christian God. Our students need to know America for only the good things, not the ugly reality. They insist that Us Teachers are grooming our students for Marxism and Socialism, and we are sexualizing them and making them hate America. We are making them gay or binary or whatever. Everything we say and do in the classroom must be monitored and reported. If we say the wrong thing about America, we must be silenced and removed from our classrooms. Thanksgiving, the original one, happened as a collaboration, not something "Indians" did to save ignorant settlers from starving and freezing. But what if out of their decency and humanity, these so-called "ignorant savages" facilitated their own demise by trusting the greedy white man? These kinds of knowledge, the stories that ring the bell of truth, must be erased and ignored, especially if they make people think or question. We must stick to old labels about the dead. We must not glorify true bravery, true humanity, or true generosity and love.
Most of all, I want them to know what it is like to enjoy writing. I want them to feel a good pen between their fingers, the way it scratches against the paper, the sound like a whisper to a loved one. The exam prompts, safely tucked away in a digital vault, still offer a compelling opportunity for planning. Most good writing takes place in the brain, so I ask students to start formulating bits of prose, key words, and commit these ideas to memory, so that under stress, during the exam, the words arise from the mist and fly off the fingertips, and the magic happens, the unicorn appears on the page and a sophistication point is earned.
I love my students, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They teach me something new every day, so I want them to recognize the oppressor.