My colleagues and I began 11th grade year (1 year prior to the research project) with a series of interactive, whole-grade lectures/discussions that exposed students to the portrayals of Detroit in the media, specifically in Time magazine. While many of these images were problematic, sensationalized and biased, we thought that engaging students with this content would be a valuable opportunity to pose powerful questions to them about how they saw their community and their role in rebuilding it.
In addition to this, we slowly introduced students to employing critical lenses, immersing them in activities and discussions that required them to examine how social, political, and economic forces helped shape the way we read the world and the word. Students began to question why most images in newspapers at the time showed Detroit in such a negative light, and why- although 90% of the city is comprised of African-Americans, those who were painted as “heroes” looked nothing like them, and most were male.
It is in this place of critical inquiry and curiosity we began our journey, and my colleagues and I revisited our British Lit curriculum often to consider how to best make changes that would reflect our growing commitment to community and critical pedagogy. We designed several projects that allowed students to bring the community into the classroom, and I also developed the “Model for Movement”, a model that articulated- for me- how I could move students from reading texts critically in the classroom to ACTING critically in their neighborhoods and communities.
The activity of the eleventh grade year, then- laid a strong foundation for the assigned research project the following year, and motivated students as community problem solvers and creators, roles that they were not previously used to playing within a school setting. While this was not a seamless process, I learned how to more effectively marry critical and community minded pedagogy to district standards and requirements, and became more intentional in my attempts to do so. Furthermore, I am now convinced that work like this is not only powerful in the classroom- but necessary.