Although this unit is meant to augment a reading of The Outsiders for my 7th grade ELA classroom, it should be utilized in many classrooms of differing subjects and grade levels. Here, a brief background study on inequality in America will lead up to a reading of The Outsiders from a different perspective, a perspective that we explored in our seminar and can be applied to subjects and topics ranging from Art to Architecture, from music to film, and to a multitude of other subjects and topics that make up the thread of our country’s character. This unit explores what Toni Morrison points out are the “strategies for maintaining the silence and strategies for breaking it” in literature with the myth of the “melting pot” and the plight of “outsiders” at our side, looking over our shoulder, prodding and questioning us along the way.
By approaching the work from this perspective, I believe my students will begin to see racism and inequality from a deeper perspective and recognize connections and causes that they may not otherwise see. Similarly, I believe that my investigation into colorblindness, eugenics, and institutionalized racism will make me a better teacher and allow me to introduce this and other literature to my students from a more informed and educated standpoint in regards to systematic inequality in our country.
Since I am a middle school teacher, teaching 7th grade Language Arts students, I do believe that introducing this topic in a tactful and sensitive manner is vital to the unit’s success. Racism is an ugly aspect of America that makes all of us reflect and struggle with what sort of people we really are as a nation.
At the root of this unit will be the goal of educating students to look beyond the text or work of art in order to discover and hopefully better understand the roots and histories of the problems that authors and we as a nation grapple with as we continue to strive to create a “more perfect union.”
Written over forty years ago, The Outsiders is a novel that has been examined and taught countless times in classrooms throughout our country. While the novel lends itself to the introduction of numerous literary devices such as first person narration, conflict, flashback, foreshadowing, symbolism and theme, topics which I will also review with my students while working through the novel, this unit will take a different approach to the concept of being an outsider while I lead students on an exploration of our American history of creating and maintaining “outsiders” through institutionalized racism through such accepted practices as Native American re-education, eugenics, and the continuous battle on immigration.
My unit utilizes restorative circles in order to invite students to discuss not only the characters’ struggles, but also their own personal struggles and the struggles of others both historically and currently.
Students will keep a written response journal specifically for the exploration of this novel in not just its own literacy, but as a part of a larger history of American outsiders. Examining themes of isolation and belonging are often explored on a personal/individual character level. I will challenge students to explore not only isolation and “fitting in” in our neighborhoods and as friends, but also how we fit in as a nation, exploring the plight of immigrants, the Native American, and victims of the eugenics movement. Students will not only examine themes of isolation and belonging in the novel, but on a broader scale include consideration of uprooted Native Americans and the persecution and sterilization of thousands. Response journals for this project will explore isolation, fitting in and colorblindness through written responses to texts such as letters written by Carrie Buck, photos of “Fitter Families” or uprooted Native American children.
While many units focus on the interpretation of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, used in the novel, I will challenge students to find a modern replacement for the poem that will emphasize our discussions of fitting in and making it in America
Finally while most units find some way to get students to compare and contrast characters in essays or write character analyses of the members or the Socs or the Greasers, I will challenge students to examine characters and create groups of characters that may not belong in a “Fitter Family” photo, but in groups of the “anti” or “un” Fitter Family in a culminating group activity that I will call the “Un-fitter Family Group Project.” Students will be challenged to dismantle the rules of the “Fitter Family” fitter contest of the eugenics movement and rethink what a modern American “Fitter Family” would look like utilizing characters from the book, celebrities as well as their friends and classmates.