Last Friday night I received an email at 11:30. Since Sam and I act well beyond our years, I was in bed at 8:30.
One of my juniors was distraught by an article they read, and needed to vent.
On KWWL’s website there was an article on Iowa’s court upholding Governor Branstad’s decision close mental health institutes. The Iowa Supreme decided that Terry Branstad acted within his constitutional authority when he vetoed funding for two state-run mental health care facilities last year and closed them.
I will admit my teacher heart fluttered a little bit. A project is not a success if I like a project, but when long after the project has stopped a student continues to be passionate.
The focus of English 11 is civic engagement. The course is led by the essential question, “How can I change my world for the better?”. Every lesson and activity relates backs or further develops this question.
This project began back in August. The first unit that I completed with English 11 was on Mental Heath. We started by reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Once students read and annotated the short story, there was a student-led socratic seminar. Through this, the juniors decided that the two main themes were women’s right and mental health. Students then conducted their own research on mental health at the time and/or women’s rights. Students then used their own research to write a literary analysis.
One student wrote, “Behind this idea is a feminist subtext. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the wallpaper itself is a metaphor for the oppression of women. The wallpaper represents the social barrier that women faced during the late 19th century.”
Another student wrote “There are many theories as to what this story represents, but there is only one true answer. The narrator has a type of mental disorder. During this time period, mental illness was neglected and was often swept under the rug due to the fact that no one quite understood it and did not want to deal with humiliation from others. It may have started from postpartum depression, but could have spurred a whole new condition. The mystery is unsolved, and might never be, but it is up to the readers to determine what actually happened.”
From this essay, we transitioned to mental health in Iowa. I gave students the topic and instructed them to find as many articles they could find on the subject. It is very easy for me to find articles that relate to the story, but it is more powerful to teach students on how to find and read articles on their own. Using the CRAAP scale (Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority, and Purpose), students evaluated the sources they found and started to sort main ideas and facts.
My students had no idea that this was a problem in Iowa, and were deeply upset that Iowa is so bad at caring for the mentally ill. They used their research and passion to write argumentative essays to send to Branstad.
One student wrote, “The cut backs by Branstad and his administration have severely limited the state’s capability to treat mentally-ill patients. The consequences of this have been negative and far-reaching, a critical failure of the state government to provide for its people.”.
This unit ended in September, but the civic engagement is still continuing.
I told the student that was in distress to write, to send another letter, to send a letter to the newspaper, to do whatever they thought would provoke change.
Despite what is happening in the news, this is why I know America is great. I have students on fire to make Iowa and the world the best place it can be by following what is happening and letting their voice be heard.