Tag Archives: Identity

Dystopian Fiction

30 Jul

Dystopian fiction is a standard inclusion in Years 10 or 11 in most high schools.  As part of this unit, students often study works by Orwell or Bradbury, engaging with the role played by social and political landscapes pre-dating their existence in shaping the dystopias and associated warnings in the texts.  While I am a fan or Orwell and Bradbury, I have also long been on the look out for contemporary texts that could engage students and re-energerise the unit.  I recently read Friday Black, a collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and I think I have FINALLY found the texts that I want to teach.

I would begin the unit with ‘Zimmer Land’, a short story about a theme park in which caucasian people give voice and action to their racial prejudice under the guise of achieving justice and engaging in problem solving.  Students would be tasked with researching the treatment of people of colour in contemporary America, drawing connections between the relevant context and the dystopian world represented.  To map these connections, students would be asked to create a visual representation of the issues that have been magnified/extended/hyperbolised to create the dystopian world.  Students may, for example, simply write the relevant context and values in different sized fonts to represent the varied levels of influence and significance.  A similar activity could be used with ‘The Finklestein 5’ if one wanted to start with the story instead.

It might also be interesting to have students keep a diary/log of their responses to the various dystopian texts studied.  Students could, perhaps, be invited to compare their reactions/responses to an older text (for example an extract from 1984) and a more recent one (for example, ‘Zimmer Land’).  Paving the way for a comparative essay, students could take note of which elements of the texts render them impactful.  Is it, for example, the language features?  Or, is it about immediacy?  Or is it it about narrative structure?  Students could also use a master list of features of dystopian texts to better understand and evaluate the effectiveness of a composer’s engagement with the conventions of this type of writing.

No Safe Place

5 Aug

As part of a mission to revitalise the English Department’s Book Room I have been reading a lot of teen fiction, hoping to be able to make recommendations as to which texts we should purchase.  As part of this process, I recently read No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis.

I think this novel would be a fantastic choice for a Year 7 or 8 class, potentially as part of units engaging with identity, refugees, migrations, survival, relationships or choice.  It follows the experiences of a group of young people fleeing danger, war and abuse, and seeking safety in England.  The text weaves between past and present, allowing for a nuanced understanding of characters and their situations.

‘The African Doctor’

25 Mar

I recently watched The African Doctor.  This film explores the experiences of a recently arrived family of Congolese descent as they seek to find their place in a rural village in France.

Although overly simplistic at times, the text engages with ideas of tolerance, acceptance, identity and communal action.  For these reasons, I think the text has the potential to engage students.

That said, I think I would be reluctant to study this text in isolation.  I think it would work best either as part of a comparative unit, or as a related text for AOS Journey or Discovery.

‘Refugee Boy’

12 Mar

I have just finished reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy.

Despite some initial concerns that Refugee Boy would be simply another variation on Boy Overboard or Girl Underground, I found myself hooked from the outset.  I think my interest was stimulated by the text’s opening – a short outline of a mixed-race family’s experiences in Ethiopia, followed by an almost identical incident, this time in Eritrea.  I found this to be a very effective way of illustrating the complexities of that family’s situation and in illustrating the challenges faced during times of war.

I think this would be an interesting text to study in Years 7 or 8 in a unit with a focus on identity.  Indeed, the text deals with the tensions between self-characterisation and social identification.

It would also be worthy of inclusion in a ‘Coming of Age’ unit as it charts both the protagonist’s growing awareness of his social surrounds as well as his community’s growing awareness of the political and social landscapes in which they exist.

It would also be interesting to study this text in a unit about migration or refugee experiences, perhaps in combination with Boy OverboardGirl UndergroundThe Arrival and/or some newspaper clippings.

‘Boys Without Names’

4 Mar

I recently read Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names and loved it! I think it appealed as it is a narrative about resilience, strength, friendship and family.  In this text, Gopal is separated from his family and has to survive in challenging circumstances.  He also needs to be build relationships with a group of boys in the same predicament as himself.

I think this text would be particularly well suited to a Year 7 or 8 class.

‘Brown Brother’

2 Feb

Brown Brother‘ is an inspiring spoken word poem delivered by high school student Joshua Iosefo.  It is a profound and emotional examination (and later rejection) of stereotypes; a reminder that honouring one’s heritage and conforming to limiting stereotypes are not the same things.

This would be a great text to study as related material in Distinctive Voices, an elective that is part of the HSC Standard English Course.  Students could engage with the ways in which gestures, tone, occasion and audience enhance the distinctiveness of the voice.

It would also be interesting to include as part of a study about identity, or perhaps as a suite of poetry engaging with the construction and representation of self.  Students could even be challenged to write their own shorter-form spoken word poem about themselves, applicable stereotypes and responses to these.

‘Ha’penny’

1 Feb

I recently read Alan Paton’s short story ‘Ha’penny‘.  Although told simply, it is a profoundly moving narrative about a young boy’s desire for acceptance, belonging and a family of his own.

This would be an interesting text to study as part of a unit about identity; students could focus on how individuals construct themselves in relation to others.

It would also be interesting to study in relation to belonging.  There, the focus would be on the yearning for acceptance, the lengths gone to create connections and the circumstances in which belonging is achieved.

In addition, the text offers an interesting perspective on journeys, offering opportunities for students to explore the journeys of Ha’penny, the narrator and Mrs Maarman.

Familiar environments

30 Jan

Alice Eather’s poem ‘My Story Is Your Story‘ is a powerful poem about the different ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people view Aboriginal land.  Through a series of haunting contrasts Eather is able to communicate the tension between connection to land and destruction for profit.

This would be an interesting text to study as part of a unit about Australian identity as it highlights the fundamental disconnect between viewpoints and, in turn, flags the callous disregard corporations can have for established and entrenched cultural connections.

It would also be an interesting text to study in AOS Discovery for HSC.  Considered alongside The Tempest, for example, it could be used to highlight how perspectives shape discovery.  Considered alongside Go Back to Where You Came From, it could be used to enrich a discussion regarding discovery, Australian identity, racism and responsibility.

The text could also be used as part of a junior AOS with a focus on change, belonging or journeys.  Here, focus would need to be on the role of context in shaping representation and value.

Eather’s poem could also be studied alongside, or as part of a suite of poetry which includes, Selina Nwulu’s ‘Home is a Hostile Lover‘. Together, the poems offer interesting representations of connection to place and the role of corporations in threatening the physicality and sacredness of place.

 

Language and Gender related material

3 Oct

I cannot stop thinking about the different types of texts I would introduce students to as part of the ‘Language and Gender’ elective in Extension 1 English.  As such, I have started to compile a list (see below).  I plan to keep revisiting and updating this list as new ideas come to me.

  1. The Bluest Eye (novel)
  2. Beloved (novel)
  3. Americanah (novel)
  4. ‘Girl’ (short story)
  5. The visual album accompanying Beyonce’s Lemonade
  6.  Girl Rising (film)
  7. Poetry of Maya Angelou
  8. Poetry of Warsan Shire
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (autobiography)
  10. Bad Feminist (collection of essays)
  11. The Twyborn Affair (novel)
  12. Annie John (novel)
  13. Quiet‘ (spoken word poem)
  14. Anzac Girls (television series)
  15. Call the Midwife (television series)
  16. The Help (film and novel)
  17. Love Child (television series)
  18. House Husbands (television series)
  19. Black Eye‘ (spoken word poem)
  20. Spear‘ (spoken word poem)
  21. I think she was a she‘ (spoken word poem)
  22. Real Men‘ (spoken word poem)
  23. She Said‘ (spoken word poem)
  24. Macbeth (play)
  25. ‘One Word’ (short story)
  26. The Color Purple (novel)
  27. Mr Selfridge (television series)
  28. Scandal (television series)
  29. Bush Mechanics (television series).

‘This is what a feminist looks like’

7 Aug

President Barack Obama recently penned an essay for Glamour Magazine in which he discussed feminism; what it is, why it is important, and why men should be feminists too.

I think this would be a great text to use as part of a unit about gender and identity as it challenges the perception that a prerequisite for identifying as a feminist is being a woman.