All they want is to change the world: Slice of Life 10/31 #SOL20

My Grade 12 class is writing personal narrative essays for the first time in their lives. Because the form is new to them, I’ve been flooding them with mentor texts from real life sources, mostly The New York Times “Lives” column and The Globe and Mail “First Person” column. We study structure, imitate style, consider topics and then work on our own essays. Yesterday, we were looking at an essay called “In this age of #MeToo, my daughter needs to know there are good men out there” so that we could study the way the author used multiple short anecdotes to make her point.

My students, ever willing, examined the structure and noticed the chronology, the transitions, the implied thesis, but eventually the discussion turned to the content of the essay itself.

“I really noticed the silencing of women’s voices in this essay.”
“Even her daughter doesn’t have a voice.”
“I appreciate that she trying to point out that there are many good people in the world, but she’s not addressing the bigger picture.”
“Do you see where she credits her partner with being the primary caregiver but then she’s the one with the playpen in her office? I wonder about their definition of primary caregiver.”
“In the end, all of her examples imply that, as a woman, she is a problem and the men are kind for helping her with this problem. They don’t change the way things work, they just make space for the problems she encounters.”

Snapping – our form of quiet clapping – broke out spontaneously around the room at that last comment.

I wish I had recorded the discussion. These young people were understanding of the author’s perspective; they knew what she was trying to do and they sympathized with her. They didn’t disagree that many men are helpful and supportive – and let’s be clear that this discussion included male, female, and a rainbow of LGBTQ+ students – but they were absolutely unwilling to concede that “good” is good enough. They don’t want men to help them lift things, and they don’t want men to change their work schedules to walk them home so they feel safe. They want a world where it actually is safe for them to walk home and where equipment they use to do their jobs is designed so that they can move it without asking a man to help.

I stood in awe of them. My generation owes them more than reminders that many people are kind and that sexism is inevitable. We owe it to them to change the world – and if we don’t, they intend to do it themselves.

 

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15 thoughts on “All they want is to change the world: Slice of Life 10/31 #SOL20

  1. What an amazing conversation! It’s clear they are internalizing the work you’re doing with them. We do owe it to girls to make the world different for them as women. It’s a huge task!

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  2. Wow, you have an amazing group of students who sound like future community leaders. I hope they go far and continue to be measured and thoughtful in all their discussions and actions as they become adults. Thanks for sharing all the conversation twists as they talked.

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  3. I wish that I could have been a part of your class. This was an insightful comment: “In the end, all of her examples imply that, as a woman, she is a problem and the men are kind for helping her with this problem. They don’t change the way things work, they just make space for the problems she encounters.”

    Thank you for providing students with fantastic examples for text and giving them the safe space to share insightful comments.

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  4. This is why I loved giving students essays like this and having them discuss. The more I stood out of the way and let them go, the more they impressed me! thanks for sharing

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  5. I am in awe of your students and their comments. It’s often difficult to find hope in our misogynistic world, but these kids give me hope. Thank them for me, please.

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  6. So many times our discussions of form turn toward topic. It’s wonderful that you gave your students that safe place to have this conversation and that you value their perspective. That’s what it takes to make change happen.

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  7. I love when conversations like these take place. I’m always blown away at the way some of my students’ minds work. You & I teach vastly different age groups but in my classroom I do try to discuss important issues with them.

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  8. You’re empowering students to think for themselves and have a safe space to really work through discussions thoughtfully and without judgment! Great work on your part and I’m so excited to see a young generation willing to step up for what is right.

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  9. Two things I’m noting in today’s slice: the understated power of snapping affirmations and the landing you stick with your conclusion.

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  10. Your post reminds me of the fact that I don’t have any young people of this age group in my life, and that, I think I underestimate them! I love that there is space and time in your classroom (and I hope in other high school classrooms) to investigate the subtle and not-so implications in the personal narratives of others. I am in awe of them too.

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