Monday, September 12, 2016

Weekly Quotes

Two years ago, when I decided on "Becoming People of Justice" as the overarching theme for my 11th grade classes, I decided on a whim to write famous quotes about justice up in the corner of the white board, a new quote each week.  I used the website BrainyQuote and found hundreds of thought-provoking blurbs on justice and injustice.
I was, however, inconsistent in updating the quotes on a regular basis, and more than once left the same quote up for two or three weeks in a row before realizing it was time to put up a new quote.  I never once drew the students' attention to the quotes on the board; as far as I was concerned, the quotes were part of the classroom decor, and not part of the curriculum.
And like so much of my classroom decor, the quotes were little more than part of the background in my classroom.  Good insofar as they were not a distraction, but serving no functional purpose.  Last year, in an attempt to remedy this, I drew my students' attention to the quotes at the start of the year, and told them to keep an eye on the corner of the board for a new quote each week.  For my part, I stayed on top of updating the quotes, and there were indeed a few students at the end of the year who wove quotes from the board into their essays.  However, most students did not notice the quotes, and were surprised when I reminded them about the quotes as they started on their final essays in May ("You mean you've been posting a new quote each week?")

This year, I decided that I would weave the quotes into the fabric of the class as a weekly reminder of our course theme; an opportunity to regularly "check our compasses".  Each Monday, I will set aside the first 10-15 minutes of class for students to write down the quote and reflect on it in a double-entry journal.  The responses to the quote can be gut reactions; they can be paraphrases or explanations of what the quote means; they can be questions or queries; they can be agreements or disagreements; they can be applications to other settings and situations.  My hope is that this new classroom routine will expose the students to a variety of perspectives about justice from throughout time and all over the world, and encourage them to engage in the ongoing historical dialogue about what constitutes injustice and how we ought to respond.  I also hope that it will develop a classroom culture where students feel comfortable discussing and contributing--certainly on a weekly basis we will have more discussions than this, but by making this a set part of our routine, perhaps even my shy students will feel supported in joining the discussion.

So far, we're off to a good start.  Last week, for example, our quote was:
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."
—Frederick Douglass

In the process of discussing the quote, the students touched on institutionalized racism, vicious and virtuous cycles, and the importance of education as a tool to fight against injustice.  These are all topics that will come up in other units during the year in greater depth, but what a great introduction!

As with my decision to set aside a class period each week for silent, sustained reading, it can feel like a sacrifice to carve out time each week that is not directly connected to our immediate unit or lesson.  However, I believe that the investment will be worthwhile.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this pays off in future discussions and essays!

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