Hopefully all of the activities which grow from this unit will contribute to developing each pupil’s self-esteem. Many pieces of poetry could probably be placed in all categories and would develop feelings of self-esteem no matter where they were placed. Some, however, deal more directly with subjects that often bring forth conflicting feelings about oneself. These I would place in this category.
In “Sam’s World”, Sam Cornish shows his mother’s pride in wearing her hair natural.
. . . she leaves it
the way the lord
intended . . .
The merits of cornrows are presented in “Willimae’s Cornrows”, by Nanette Mellage. She also indirectly illustrates the bonding that often takes place between the braider, in this case her grandmother, and the recipient.
A discussion of contemporary hair styles could easily follow. Magazines offer visual examples. Old photographs might illustrate styles that have changed. I have found that talking directly about negative comments which pupils have heard regarding hair style, texture, and color create the possibility of developing more positive attitudes.
As a related activity, pupils might design hairstyles and colors for the future. What about having a “Wear Your Hair a Different Way” day?
During our study of African American history, the role of skin color will have been discussed. Since Slavery, skin coloring of a lighter hue has historically been in favor. The general negative connotation given to blackness, not only in skin color, has been well documented. Counteracting this view were the earlier development of Black Pride and the more modern Afrocentric movements. As with pupils’ emotional responses to hair, I feel that a direct but enlightened discussion is the best route. A number of poems could serve as motivators.
“Color” - Langston Hughes
Like a banner . . .
“Black Is Best” - Larry Thompson
Black is best.
My Mother forgot to tell me . . .
“Black Is Beautiful” - Useni Eugeni Perkins
Black is beautiful and so am I . . .
In a more indirect approach, Dudley Randall’s “Memorial Wreath”, honoring the memory of African American soldiers who served in the Civil War, should bring forth feelings of pride.
. . . American earth is richer for your bones.
Our hearts beat prouder for the blood we inherit.
Many other poems fit appropriately into this category. Where they are used is not as important as how. If they add to pupil understanding and appreciation of self and others, they are probably building self-esteem.
This unit, along with three others from this seminar, has been designed to provide opportunities for cooperative teaching across grade levels. The units of Geraldine Martin, Francine Coss, Patrice Flynn, and Jean Sutherland contain elements that will be shared among our four classrooms. Throughout the Institute we have met to develop ways in which our units can be integrated. Some are mentioned in our individual units. Others are larger group activities which we continue to develop. They include a cultural festival involving our four classrooms and an assembly for the entire school. We are also applying for grant money to facilitate our plans. We are also planning to involve parents.
All shared activities will revolve around the particular people or cultural group focused on in our individual units and will grow from the poetry being studied by each class.
A similar cooperative effort among teachers in other schools could be adapted in varying forms by those who might use these units.