This curriculum seeks to use multiple literacies such as visual, critical, scientific, informational, digital and media to engage students and empower students to observe, investigate, analyze, evaluate information. It asks students to notice, wonder, question narratives and create counternarratives for voices that may not have been heard in the stories they read. It asks students to not only read literature but create future literature comprised of voices they found to be underrepresented or misrepresented in their analysis of text.
As a teacher of language arts, I do not have many sacred cows. I am akin to the students Donoghue refers to in his article, Three Ways of Reading where I view frameworks for interpretation as “constructed” rather than “innate, natural, or otherwise privileged” and see any one of them as employable as the other.18 This curriculum provides another framework for interpretation of literature. Using CRT to analyze text affords the reader greater freedoms to entertain or discuss concepts and ideas arising from or tangent to the reading. Such (reading) analysis of literature by middle schoolers is on par with the complexity of higher order thinking. It requires students to decipher race as a social construct within the text. Such text analysis causes students to reflect on how race’s construction within (story) moves the story along its trajectory. Throughout this process, students need to make connections to the world of the text and to both the student as an individual and a member of the larger world.
This curriculum is not designed to turn language arts classes into history or science classes, but it does require some entry into such disciplines in an effort to provide students with sufficient background knowledge to appreciate many of the references or significance of such references. One of the drawbacks of coming of age in a post Obama era is the student lack of cultural currency or misperception that much of the civil rights rhetoric appears to have been achieved. Concepts like race (“whites discriminated against black, and Hispanic people”), eugenics (“Eugene who?), slavery (“something bad that white people did to black people a long time ago”), Reconstruction (what?), Jim Crow (who?), civil rights movement (“Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus and was arrested”), Martin Luther King (“delivered I Have A Dream speech” and “was assassinated”) and Malcolm X (“a Muslim arch rival of Martin Luther King who was assassinated”) either have not discussed with them as an academic conversation or was glossed over with such a broad stroke that they do not have much in terms of a foundation of information in which to launch from. Other students may be leery to join conversations due to personal issues of “the sole member” of the dominant group, personal immigration or family status. Hence, for many of my students their primary or present oriented concerns seem to center on their identity, what others are doing, “fitting-in’” and technology. The potential dangers of straying too far in the direction of science or history may cause a loss of from the objectives of the curriculum. If the curriculum is presented solely in a language arts class setting it should be done with “samplings” --excerpts of nonfiction background information with sufficient context to provide background information and enable independent inquiry.
An ideal presentation of the curriculum is a collaboration with the disciplines of social studies and science. Combining the content areas--literature, science and social studies creates opportunities to create deeper understanding of the multitude of concepts that may be foundational to CRT and referenced in Afrofuturistic text. Students would be afforded greater access (translated in terms of both class time) to content knowledge experts allowing formulate narratives or counternarratives that are textually richer.
Central to this curriculum is the idea of race as a social construct and racism as a determiner of one’s life choices. Race, according to Aronson, is “a way of explaining human difference and organizing people into categories.19 Aronson asserts that it rests on four assumptions: a) physical differences matter, b) these differences in our bodies cannot change, c) these differences are inherited and d) each group has a distinct level of brain power and moral refinement; thus they are naturally and unchangeably ranked. The definition of race and racism is accordance that studied by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva where he states races are invented social categories.20 He states that “(a)fter the process of attaching meaning to a ‘people’ is instituted, race becomes a real category of group association and identity” and it is this process where race as a construct becomes socially real and reenacted in the everyday life in encounters in all sorts of situations and spaces.
Racism, which Bonilla-Silva sees as more detrimental than race is about practices and behaviors that produce a racial structure. This structure is responsible for the production and reproduction of systemic racial advantages for some (the dominant racial group) and disadvantages for others (the subordinated races). Racism as a form of social organization places subjects in common social locations. As subjects face similar experiences, they develop a consciousness, a sense of “us” versus “them.” Bonilla-Silva postulates that although the content of racial categories changes over time through manifold processes and struggles, race is not a secondary category of group association. He stresses that even though race as a construct may change over time and vary from society to society, they are meaningful categories. Categories that allow racialized societies to exist and a) provides for the existence of racial inequality, b) provides interracial interaction rules, c) forms the basis for actors racial subjectivity, d) shapes and influences the views of the dominant actors, and e) claims a universality that hides the fact of a racial order that benefits a racial group. (This is the distinguishing power of race and racism. Racism of individuals cannot be the basis for maintaining racial inequality.)
Looking at race within literature, this curriculum examines what Toni Morrison describes in her book, Playing the Dark as the “Africanist Other.”21 She postulates that the black presence is central to understanding our national literature. This “Other” presence--this blackness is not necessarily representativeness of an African people but a signifier of both connotative and denotative readings or misreadings, assumptions and views of what they have come to mean. She argues that just as our nation formation need to codify itself and speak in ways that allowed for racial disingenuousness and white frailty so too did literature. Many of the metaphors and symbols that literature uses to reference the “Africanist Other” was developed during this nation’s formation, and the period during and after slavery. She argues that writers had to develop language that allowed for the congruency of freedom of whites and slavery.
Reflectively, I agree with Morrison when she states it is easier to see the power of the “Other” through writing than it is as a reader. Hence, this curriculum focuses more on the creative writing aspect that requires a synthesis of ideas and implementation of written literary devices that students glean from their reading and viewing reflections. Some of the literary devices Morrison cites were useful to writers include: 1) economy of stereotype--a type of shorthand that is nonspecific, 2) Metonymic displacement--figures of speech that replace the ““Africanist Other” with other things for which they have become closely associated, i.e., color coding (counts on the readers” complicity to be effective) , 3) metaphysical condensation--allows the writer to transform social and historical differences into universal differences, e.g. allowing for correlations between people and animals allows the writer/reader to distance himself, 4) fetishization--category used to denote savagery, used to establish erotic fears or desires where they don’t exist, 5) dehistorizating allegory--if the history of the “Africanist Other” is made to be so vastly different, it serves to close the “Other’s” history before it has an opportunity to develop, and 6) patterns of explosive, disjointed, repetitive language--where there is a loss of control within the text that are due to the text’s attention to the objects of its attention rather than the story.22
For a complex topic such as race, a multidisciplinary exploration of the construct can be most impactful for the student. For instance, to highlight the use of this curriculum I feature science fiction texts that use the motif of time/time travel (also known as temporal relocation) and where race is explicitly presented within the story’s context or is absent or misrepresented. The texts included: two major classic written texts a short story by a.) H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (published in 1895 a period shortly after Reconstruction, after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859) and after Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton’s work on eugenics, Hereditary Genius (1869), a short story where a professor time travels to the future to see the effects of evolution,) and b.) Octavia Butler’s The Kindred (a novel where an African American female protagonist of an interracial marriage time travels from her present period of June 1976 to the past--a plantation of her ancestors in Virginia), a contemporary humorous short story, Whoa! by Rita Williams-Garcia, of an African American male teen who speaks to his slave ancestor gathering water from a plantation well from his humidifier basin that had been a gift from his grandmother and film clips from book based science fiction written works. Given the multitude of issues raised by the texts, a myriad of points of view and layers of concept construction can be explored simultaneously. For instance, in science, students would explore time travel, the DNA or genetics of race, evolution and eugenics, while simultaneously, in social studies, exploring colonialism, the economics of slavery, Reconstruction, labor migration, the ethics of technology, or genetic engineering, and in language arts generating questions from literature as to the veracity of the text, literary devices used by the author to convey connotative and denotative meaning, author bias, voice and social constructs employed to convey to the reader images or conduits of societal understanding.
By steering away from a mainstream, colorblind approaches to classroom discussions of race, this multidisciplinary approach allows students to determine whether literature can serve as a microcosm of society. Looking at text not only from its four corners but also the context in which it was generated can be a revelatory experience and informative process for students who are beginning text analysis. Students are better able to make connections between the disciplines and use such insights in the development of their interpretations or reinterpretations for an ideal society.