Like the city of Oakland itself, my students are an incredibly diverse group of young people. They come from a wide array of racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The majority of my students are African American and Latino (though I also have a good number of Asian, White, and multiracial students) and a majority of them qualify for free and reduced lunch. Yet they are all uniformly brilliant, curious, and bighearted, and I feel lucky to teach them.
I'm currently teaching in a new pathway at my high school that has a focus on preparing students for legal, policy, and organizing careers.
The curriculum uses an ethnic studies and social justice lens to study various aspects of our legal system and how issues of race, class, and gender play out in both our legal system and in society at large.
All American Boys is a powerful YA novel narrated by two teenage boys: Rashad, who is black, and Quinn, who is white. Told in alternating chapters by Rashad and Quinn, it tells the story of how Rashad is brutally (and wrongfully) assaulted by a police officer and the impact the incident has on Rashad, Quinn, and their classmates at school. The novel does a masterful job of tackling incredibly important issues like police brutality, racism in the American criminal justice system, media stereotypes, and white silence/complicity.
The pathway I teach in has an explicit focus on studying issues of race, poverty, and social justice.
I like to begin the year by asking my students to confront these issues head-on, and to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about race. The intention of the authors (Reynolds and Kiely) is to get readers (particularly teens) to engage in those difficult conversations, which are necessary to overcome the trauma created by the deep legacies of institutional and structural racism in this country.
In addition to the important content, All American Boys is a highly engaging text (the narrative voices of Rashad and Quinn are funny, honest and highly relevant), which is important early in the school year. I teach a wide range of students in terms of engagement and academic ability. While I believe all of my students are brilliant, many of them have challenges with reading and writing, and struggle to shine in a system that has a very narrow definition of what constitutes intelligence. Because of this, I am a strong believer in starting off the year with engaging and accessible texts that allow all students to experience success early on.
I am positive that this book will have a profound impact on my students. Please support this project!
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