Top 10 High School Feminist Teaching Moments of 2014

This has been quite a year for me as a feminist teacher and activist. Here are some highlights of an exciting year of #HSfeminism in action.

1. This past fall, journalist Kelley Lord visited my classroom to document the impact that teaching feminism at the high school level was making on my students. She wanted to see firsthand why my students–both boys and girls–strongly identified as feminists. Included in her video below are highlights from our annual International Day of the Girl assembly, which featured boys acting out a scene on bystander intervention and girls speaking out on street harassment. All of them discuss why taking feminism in high school matters. Watch the magic of #HSfeminism.


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Students Enthralled By Morrison at PEN World Voices Festival

My Toni Morrison seminar students (photo by Cecelia Martin).

This weekend I took the junior and senior students in my Toni Morrison elective to hear her speak alongside South African writer Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah, President of the PEN American Center. The event took place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall as part of the annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.

During the talk, Morrison declared Niekerk’s novel Agaat, “exactly the most extraordinary book that I’ve ever read in a long time . . . you must read it.” Agaat won the prestigious Hertzog Prize in 2007; the prize recognizes the very best in Afrikaans literature. Continue reading

Exposing the “Master Narrative”: Teaching Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

The following post is second in a series on teaching paired texts in high school classrooms.  It is cross-posted at Equality 101.

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye lends itself to rich conversations with students about race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Throughout our teaching of this text, my colleagues and I have used a variety of additional texts, images, and videos that help students understand the novel from both personal and analytical perspectives. The following post provides ideas for sources to pair with the novel including teaching the term “master narrative,” discussing images of Shirley Temple and American girlhood, as well as analyzing media images and their connection to self and body image. Continue reading

Teaching Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Memory, Imagination, and the Narratives of Slavery

The following post is first in a series on teaching paired texts in high school classrooms. It can also be found at Equality 101.

Toni Morrison (photograph copyright by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

Every spring when I teach my high school junior elective on Toni Morrison, I start with the same anecdote about the time I was grading papers in a café after school, when I decided to take a break and started reading The New York Times. Flipping through the pages, I noticed an ad that listed Toni Morrison as the featured speaker that very night at the New York Historical Society.  She was giving a lecture as part of a series of talks that complemented the powerful 2005 exhibit “Slavery in New York.” Upon reading the ad, I quickly paid my bill and jumped on a subway uptown to the NYHS.

However, once I reached the museum, the event had already been sold-out. Behind me, a generous woman offered to sell me her absent friend’s ticket and I was in.

This passion for Morrison gets the course started.  Once I enter class on the first day, I know I am not alone with my love. The students who take this upper level course all read The Bluest Eye in tenth grade.  When I ask them to reflect on their reasons for taking a single author course on Morrison, students consistently cite their admiration for The Bluest Eye as their primary reason for wanting to read more of her work.

The course is titled Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Memoir, Imagination, and the Narratives of Slavery. In class, I often use the metaphor that Beloved is the “sun” or central text of the course and other readings that we study throughout the trimester are surrounding “satellite” texts. All of these satellite or paired texts serve a purpose: to demonstrate Morrison’s merging of rich literary, oral, and musical traditions throughout the novel.  These traditions are: 1) slave narratives; 2) spirituals; 3) and modernism.

I have found using slave narratives, spirituals, and the history of modernism helpful in framing Beloved.  As we move along in the novel, students appreciate this framing, as it provides touchstones for interpretation and understanding. Perhaps you will find these satellite or paired texts useful as well. Continue reading