One of the goals of our English department is to:
Make English class relevant to students' lives now.
This is a lofty, but I think, incredibly important goal. Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with Susie, a colleague, regarding this goal. I mentioned that I thought we had to ensure the texts we selected for students to read were relevant to their current lives. She countered that it was the writing that had to be relevant. This forced me to think about my original position and question the texts my students read. How is The Kite Runner significant in the lives of students in mostly white, Canada-born Orangeville? What about The Rez Sisters? What possible connections can my teenage students make between their lives and the lives of middle-aged First Nations women living on a reserve?
In PLC today, Andrea, Scott, and I discussed this goal briefly, and now I am of the opinion that the writing is how we can make seemingly irrelevant texts relevant to our students' lives now. Scott highlighted the fact that guilt is a driving force in The Kite Runner. Perhaps the specific events and experiences of Amir aren't directly relevant to the lives of our students, but the concepts of guilt, or parental battles, or love, are in fact relevant to students. We need to give them the opportunity to make these links. Andrea pointed out that within The Kite Runner unit, we already encourage students to make connections via their defining moment speech. This is a good point, and I think I am going to begin encouraging students to begin making and sharing personal meaning during our chapter seminars.
Now I think that many of the texts we study--even the Shakespeare we chopped from the course--can be relevant to our students, but as teachers, we need to encourage and welcome the personal connections via writing and speaking opportunities.