Posts Tagged 'Claudette Colvin'

The Perfect Book for the Perfect Time

Claudette_Colvin

Claudette Colvin

Bill Waychunas

I was unpacking some boxes the other week and I came across a box (one of too many) that contains some of my “teaching stuff.” Every teacher has these boxes stashed somewhere, and I’ve even heard nightmare stories of former teachers finishing their careers with storage units full of these boxes. Anyways, in this particular box was a book that I used last year in my 9th grade Activism and Social Justice class called Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice written by Phillip Hoose. It’s a story about a teenage hero who’s name you probably don’t recognize. She was an African American teen living in Montgomery, Alabama, who stood up against segregation by refusing to give up a seat on a bus before Rosa Parks.

That’s right. Before Rosa. One could even argue that Claudette inspired Rosa.

As I pulled the book out of the box and flipped through the highlighted and dog-eared pages, I thought to myself about how perfectly relevant this book and this story are at this very moment in time. As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, here is Claudette Colvin, the perfect figure to bridge between the months as a Black woman (though she and this book are great for any month of the year). But even more striking to me is how after the rash of mass shootings which our country has recently faced, we’ve seen teens leading the charge towards justice, just as Claudette Colvin and so many other young people have done throughout history.

It might seem obvious by now: I’m recommending this book. If you are a middle school or high school social studies or ELA teacher, you need to consider using this book in your class. Heck, if you are a human being with a pulse, you should probably pick yourself up a copy. First, it’s a Newberry and National Book Award winner, so you know it’s good. Second, it’s only about 125 pages long and written in a style that lands somewhere between a narrative and non-fiction, making it the perfect length and genre for hitting those oh-so-important teaching standards.

But even more important is the way that this book speaks to students by allowing them to connect with a true story about the challenges and opportunities to make the world a better place. The discussions and writing that I saw from students when reading this book were truly incredible and even beyond the typical subjects that one would expect to arise when reading a book that takes place during the Civil Rights Movement. In a quick thumbing through the book, I’m reminded of following topics which either students were able to connect to in this story or that I was able to provide supplemental materials to deepen understanding: school inequity, the criminal justice system, confronting stereotypes about light skin and dark skin African Americans, debating the straightening of hair vs. natural African hairstyles, teachers as activists, diversity in the teaching force, “hidden figures” of the Civil Rights Movement beyond MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks, sex education, adoption, and–most importantly–the difficult individual choices that we all make in pushing our world towards or away from justice.

I’m honestly disappointed that I’m not sharing in that experience with a new group of kiddos this year. But maybe after reading this, I’ve convinced a few more people to give the Claudette Colvin story a read and hopefully get it into the hands of more young people.

 


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