Every day, representatives from Nepal, Tibet, Kenya, Tonga, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Myanmar, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Japan, Bosnia, and Utah--just to name a few--show up in a classroom. They are there to learn, to study literature and academic English. They wear many identities and labels throughout the day: minority, refugee, ESL student, bilingual, fee waiver, below grade level, low income. This room is a safe haven as students prepare for standardized tests that determine their opportunities for college and career post high school. It is a space where students can discover a greater love of reading and extend their definitions of "American literature." This classroom is a space in which they all receive one label: scholars.
As my diverse 11th grade students approach the final hurdles between themselves and college, they are in need of challenging, culturally relevant, rigorous reading opportunities which bring them ever closer to academic mastery. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake is a novel that probes at what it means to have dual consciousness as a second generation immigrant growing up in a country and culture that is nothing like your parents'. This novel is academically challenging but explores approachable subject matter familiar to my students.
Our stories are how we define ourselves, and, in an American Literature course, the goal is to broaden my students' perception of which stories deserve to be told in America, especially their own.
Our guiding question for the unit--"What Does It Mean to Be American?"--will culminate in a personal narrative/argument essay of the same prompt. The Namesake plays a critical role in shaping their beliefs surrounding the value of their own personal stories to the greater American narrative.
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