Volume V, Issue 3
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)
Natural disasters, racial conflicts, civil unrest, the threat of war–these are just some of the current events filling news cycles this month. As a teacher I have a natural desire to protect children from physical dangers, as well as knowledge of a troubled world. However, I have come to realize that despite my instincts, children at very young ages are not only aware of these issues, but many are directly impacted by them. Furthermore, children live in a plugged-in world, surrounded by media conveying images and stories about current events around the world in real time.
How do we provide children and adolescents with perspectives on these difficult truths and the issues they raise? Do we ignore them, making our classrooms neutral spaces devoid of disturbing conversations too challenging for young students to consider, or do we bring these issues into school spaces and create opportunities for students to constructively explore and expand their knowledge and understandings of these issues? Perhaps the more significant question to consider is how to help young learners navigate and process this constant exposure to troubling events and the complex issues such events raise for students.
This issue of WOW Stories highlights teachers and teacher educators who took on the challenge of addressing critical issues and difficult topics in the classroom. The four vignettes demonstrate how literature, careful planning, and an abiding trust in children’s abilities to think critically about political, social, and global issues, present powerful opportunities for inquiry and reflection for both students and their teachers.
Kelly Cutler shares an inquiry into an exploration of race with first graders. Her vignette describes how she initiated these conversations using carefully selected literature and guiding questions to define topics around race that led to insightful observations and connections. Similarly, Hee Young Kim and Angelica Serrano explore how students in an elementary classroom visually read images in cultural texts with the goal of creating a critical visual literacy curriculum. Their collaborative inquiry found students recognized embedded racialized discourses in the illustrations of picture books through instruction on how to read visual elements.
The last two vignettes draw attention to the critical role the teacher plays in enacting engagement with critical issues through the authors’ work with preservice teachers. Mary Fahrenbruck and Leanna Lucero describe how they engage preservice teachers with multicultural literature, providing explicit descriptions of instructional practices and links to resources they found effective in developing critical awareness of the diversity of students in their future classrooms. Likewise, S. Rebecca Leigh depicts her experiences using challenging texts with preservice teachers and presents a framework she adapted that provided opportunities for pre-service teachers to effectively use read alouds as part of their social justice pedagogy.
As an editor and teacher, I am inspired by these stories of hope, and encouraged by the powerful learning opportunities offered by meaningful engagements around literature. Like Amy from Little Women, I am less afraid to sail my ship into the storm (Alcott, 1832).
Alcott, Louisa May, (1832/2014). Little Women: New York: Puffin.
Tracy Smiles, Editor