Activity One-Generating Questions about the terminology
Before even starting to read The Outsiders I want to begin generating discussions and conversations around fitting in, equality, and racism in America. The QFT process is a great discussion generator that I believe will help raise the students’ comfort level in beginning to discuss these often difficult topics. I will utilize the Amy Tan quote mentioned earlier in the unit (“There is this myth that America is a melting pot, but what happens in assimilation is that we end up deliberately choosing the American things-hot dogs and apple pie-and ignoring the Chinese offerings) but numerous other quotes and images would fit fine here to get students talking about what it is to fit in in America. My hope is that beginning with a discussion of the “Melting Pot,” will lead to discussions using (and getting students used to using) some of the terminology (colorblindness, racism, critical race theory, etc.) mentioned earlier in the unit.
Students are grouped together in small group of no more than four. The focus question, statement, image or topic (the Qfocus) is put on the board for students to consider. One student is designated the scribe and the other students the questioners. As the questioners brainstorm questions or statements regarding the Qfocus, the scribe writes the questions on chart paper. Four rules are to be followed during the questioning session; Ask as many questions as you can; Do not judge or discuss the questions; Questions are written down exactly as they are stated; Any statements must be turned into a question. After students have been given time to brainstorm questions they go back as a group and label their questions as either “O” for open-ended questions or “C” for closed-ended, which are questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no response. Next students are asked to continue working with their groups to change their questions from an open-ended to a closed and vice versa. This allows students to feel more comfortable with the questions while they think critically about what information is being utilized. Finally, students are asked to prioritize the questions by choosing the three questions that they feel are the most important or the most worthy of continued discussion/research. At this point the the class is called back together to create a master sheet of the top questions from each group. The class can then take the time to reflect on the process, sharing how they came to their conclusions and what about the process they found interesting or challenging.
I will utilize the QFT process to kick off the unit, but will go back to it multiple throughout our reading. The QFT will lead to interesting discussions on racism, historical topics mentioned above as well as literary points from the novel. Once students are used to the questioning process, this tool becomes extremely useful. Again, the QFT can be used on multiple topics, in various subjects and on any grade level. The question formulating process and student interaction is key to the success of the technique.
Students will be able to work in groups in order to brainstorm ideas around inequality in America that we will be able to utilize in discussion and journal responses. We’ll know we’ve got it when we have brainstormed, categorized and prioritized questions devised from the given quote utilizing the QFT process.
Who has ever heard of a “melting pot?” What is it? Lead students in a brief discussion of the term “melting pot.”
After briefly reviewing the steps to follow in the QFT process, the groups are created, scribes chosen and I write the quote out of the board. Students are given about ten minutes to complete the first step in the process which is simply writing down any ideas or questions that arise thinking about the quote. As mentioned above, all statements should be turned into a question.
After students have had time to develop the questions, students are prompted to categorize questions as to which questions are open questions and which are closed. Closed questions are those that are answerable with a simple “yes” or “no,” while open questions require more explanation. Groups of students go through their list labeling each question with an “O” or a “C.” At this point I also ask students to experiment with turning closed questions into open ones and vice versa.
Next, I ask the groups to choose their top three, most meaningful questions in order of importance. After a brief period of group discussion, we come back together as a class and I ask students to share out their questions as I consolidate the class’ top questions on chart paper. Once we have consolidated the questions I ask groups to choose a question that their group did not create in order to have a brief five minute discussion amongst themselves.
Finally I ask students to choose a question, write it down in their response journal, and respond to it in a brief seven or eight minute free write session. I always ask for volunteers to share out the work. The earlier in the year that students start to utilize the QFT process and share their work out loud, the better.
Activity Two- Rewriting the scenes
This activity is meant to prompt students to empathize with another group of people who have been made to feel like outsiders in our country. The “Indian Schools” which sprung up across the country during the beginning of the 20th Century were another attempt to strip Native Americans of everything what they had, including their identity. Utilizing before and after photos of Native Americans who were brought to the schools will be a powerful tool in showing students what people are expected to sacrifice in order to become “Americans.” The photos of Native American children with their hair cut, their clothing replaced with uniforms, forced to sit in a setting that creates a very European portrait, will reverberate with students. The subjects of the photography look like they feel like “outsiders.”
In his book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee; Native America from 1890 to the Present, author David Treuer discusses the origins of the Indian schools. In 1879 Richard Henry Pratt, determined to civilize the natives, opened the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania asserting his philosophy to “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”10Children of great chiefs and warriors were forbidden from speaking their native language, forced to cut their hair and punished for minor offenses. The students were forced to give up the clothing of their native tribes and given western clothing that they were extremely uncomfortable with. By the turn of the century, there were “twenty boarding schools run by the Office of Indian Affairs, dozens of ‘agency schools’ on or near Indian agencies around the country, and dozens more boarding schools run by religious orders.”11 By the end of the reign of the Indian schools in America, Treuer asserts “tens of thousands” of children were separated from their families and cultures and re-educated through this attempt at creating Americans of the natives. Again, what does it take to fit into the “melting pot?” Americans thought they were doing the “savages” a favor by giving them haircuts, dressing them in western clothing and reeducating them. Who decides who must give what up to be a member of this country? Who decides what is acceptable and what is not? What we see through examination of our own colorblindness that it is the dominant European culture that has always and continues to determine what is American and what is not.
Although the setting of The Outsiders is never implicitly stated, it is generally agreed that the author, S.E. Hinton based her fictional Western town around her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Interestingly, Oklahoma was also the destination point for thousands of Native Americans at the end of the log trek knows as The Trail of Tears. This forced removal of Native tribes east of the Mississippi, under Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 was just the beginning of decades of genocide that would end with the relocation, resettlement and annihilation of scores of Native American tribes. Looking at the book through a critical race lense, a logical question that arises is “Where are all the Native Americans?” In fact there are no people of color in the book at all. Written in 1967, in the heat of the civil rights movement, and just a few years before the rise of a Native American movement, one could ask, was the book written through a colorblind lens?
Students will be able to make connections between students of “Indian Schools” and characters from The Outsiders. We’ll know we’ve got it when we have created response journals in which characters from The Outsiders react to the photographs of students from the “Indian Schools.”
Utilizing a wall map of the United States, I will begin this activity by asking students to pinpoint Oklahoma on the map. I will begin introducing the students to the “Trail of Tears” with the viewing of clips the 2006 award winning documentary The Trail of Tears; Cherokee Legacy. We will go back to the map and follow the trek that so many were forced to walk under Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.
After viewing the film, I will lead a brief discussion on the history of Native American relocation in our country. This is a good opportunity to form a circle and discuss colorblindness in the novel utilizing some of the vocabulary introduced earlier in the unit. We will discuss the date of publication and the things going on, particularly in regards to Civil Rights, in our country at that time. I will encourage students to discuss why they think that people of color do not appear in the novel. Have they simply disappeared or do they not exist in this world that the author has created? Is this another example of the author’s colorblindness? How could the fact that no people of color appear in the novel be an example of “modern racism?”
Next, I will ask students to look at photos of school children before and after their indoctrination into “Indian Schools,” I will ask students to share what they see in the photos and how the photos make them feel. I will give students a few minutes to work together in order to create Venn Diagrams comparing characters from the book with the students they see. For example, after the murder of Rob, one of the Socs, Johnny and Pony boy are forced to flee in order to avoid prosecution for the crime. Hiding in an abandoned church in the mountains, the boys attempt to alter their identities by cutting and bleaching their hair. This interesting scene shows two boys trying to shed their identities. But, instead of becoming someone else or changing their identities at all, the boys simply become Pony Boy and Johnny with bleached and cut hair. Similarly, by cutting hair, changing some clothes and forcing Native Americans to sleep on beds in cabins, proponents of Indian schools thought changing the appearance of human beings might change their identity and make them more American.
After we share our findings I will ask students why they think no Native Americans appear in the novel and what might change about the novel if they were. We will discuss the possibilities of writing in characters of color into the novel. Next, I will challenge students to work in pairs to recreate a scene from The Outsiders in which they include a Native American or person of color in the scene. Students will choose random scenes from a hat (the movie theater scene, the rumble scene, the home life scene, the hospital scene, etc) and utilize the books in order to recreate the scenes, adding dialogue and interactions between characters. Students will need substantial time to work on this, but when they are ready, I will bring the class together to discuss our findings, and have students share out their ideas.
Finally, I will ask students to reflect in their journals about what changed when they rewrote scenes from the book. How has their perception of the book changed? What suggestions or ideas might you share with the author if given the chance?
Activity Three-Revisiting the “Fitter Family.”
One of the themes in the novel The Outsiders is the importance of family. While the Socs come to epitomize children of privilege, with their preppy clothes, fast cars and snooty attitudes, the Greasers come to represent broken families that are damaged and needy. Pony Boy’s parents are dead, and he and his two brothers are allowed to live together in a home that at times resembles a frat house more than a nurturing home. Similarly, Johnny has a family, but his mother is an alcoholic and his father beats her and Johnny regularly. Right before the boys are jumped and forced into hiding, Johnny confides in Pony Boy that he is likes it better when his father is beating him because, “At least then I know he knows who I am. I walk in that house and nobody says anything. I stay away all night, and nobody notices.”12
Part of the popularity of the novel surely stems from an honest look at family dynamics that many of us can relate to. There are far fewer perfect families in our country than our politicians would like to admit. And perhaps that is one of the problems that our country has always faced. Why is it that we have so much trouble accepting people and families simply as human beings, as who they are?
The Eugenics Movement is a vast and complex topic that can be explored in depth depending on teacher and students’ needs and curriculum. For this unit I give students some background information on what we as a nation have been willing to do in order to blend as a nation of immigrants. Much like the introduction of Indian schools, I use photos and visuals around the Eugenics movement in order to introduce the topic to my students. They will respond in response journals to several topics related to the eugenics movement including the “Fitter Family Contests” and letters written by Carrie Buck. Finally, the students will design modern versions of what a Fitter Family Contest might look like today, in a more diverse America.
The “Fitter Family” contests will be the basis for an activity which will take place at the end of this unit. As mentioned earlier the concept of the “Fitter Family” contest came out of the eugenics movement and was celebrated throughout the country at fairs and gatherings. The “Fitter Family” of the 20th Century encompassed values and characteristics of a dominant white society. My goal with this activity is to challenge students to flip the “Fitter Family” contest on itself and define the contest today in terms of what they see as the values of the 21st Century.
The project will be a group project in which students will examine the rules of the “Fitter Family” contests of the eugenics movement and rethink what the rules might be in today’s world. After the concept of the “Fitter Family,” including looking at pictures and on line resources, students will work in groups of three to four, research the rules or guidelines set out for fitter family contests, then working within their groups, determine what might be the rules for modern day “Fitter Family” contest. We will discuss which of the “families” from The Outsiders might belong in a family then or today and why. Finally, students will work together in order to create a visual representation comparing the families of yesterday with a possible family of today. Students may choose to create a poster or collage which will represent the families then present their findings to the class.
Students will be able to determine how or if family values have changed over the past century. Groups of students will determine the guidelines for a modern “Fitter Family,” compare their guidelines with those of the original contest and determine what needs to change if the “Fitter Family” Contest of the 20th Century were to be held today.
I will put photos of the “Fitter Families” of the 20th Century on the board and ask for students’ reactions to the photos. We will have a brief discussion of our observations, and try to compare the contests to anything that we might see or know of today.
Students will work in groups in order to determine what guidelines were used in the 20th Century “Fitter Family” and determine what the contest guidelines would follow today. Each group will come up with their own guidelines for a modern “Fitter Family” and create a presentation that will compare our modern rendition of the “Fitter Family with the original. Students will create posters, collages, or live presentations of the family winners and discuss them as a class.
Finally our discussion of what makes a fitter family will conclude this unit and discussion of The Outsiders. (A restorative circle discussion might be a good way to approach this section.) What groups of characters from The Outsiders might have been winners in the “Fitter Family” contest of the 20th Century? What characters or groups of characters would be winners under the group’s modified guidelines? What has changed in our modern day version of this contest? What has not changed? What still needs to change?