This Summer has seen some important events in our nation's history. Primaries, conventions, Supreme Court rulings, anger, hate speech, violence, death, and so much more. Now, there have been great things that happen every day in this great country, but how we cope and understand the worst that happens is how we grow as a nation. Tough conversations need to happen in the classroom.
That is where teachers need to step in and step up.
As a literature teacher, one of my many jobs is to connect our current events to the literature of the past. Asking students to make these connections is how I can drive the conversation and let them explore the value of reading these texts. As I sat and watched the conventions, I was thinking about the readings we will do in my American Literature class and I was drawn to a speech by Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". This sermon used fear to bring people back into the fold of church. It used tremendous imagery to scare believers into coming back to the church.
"The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him."
"And you children that are unconverted, don’t you know that you are going down to hell to bear the dreadful wrath of that God that is now angry with you every day and every night?"
Questions I might ask students:
How does Edwards use fear in his sermon?
Is it helpful in making his case?
Do speech writers still use this tactic? Can you find an example?
I also think about Patrick Henry's Speech at the Virginia Convention as well. Trying to convince a group of people that it was time to make the difficult choice and openly rebel against the Crown.
"Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it."
Questions I might ask students:
What is the "painful truth" Henry is speaking about?
Who might give this speech today? Support your answer with text similar to this.
I think about these passages and questions and I hope my students can make the connections to the world around them. It might take a little poking, but it is important to let the student get to where they are going on their own.
The value of classroom conversations is when the teacher sets them up and backs away to let the student think out the connections and share their thoughts.
To do this, it is important to establish a safe environment for all students to share their opinions. This has taken me time to master, but my students know that they can speak their mind in our class as long as they are respectful of others.
This year, think about how you can create an environment for your students to talk about important events in our nation.