Extraordinary conversations, every day

Eighth graders are presenting their research on first wave feminists this week.

 

It's part of a yearlong humanities curriculum that teaches US and European history in terms of how individuals can be a force for positive change.

 

Topics like gender and race, identity and social justice aren't just special units at Gordon.

 

They are part of the daily conversation.

 

That's just as true in third grade as it is in eighth. 

 

This group of third graders is reading Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

 

It's based on the story of Charlie Parkurt, a nineteenth century figure who was assigned the gender of female at birth but lived his adult life as a man.

To make sense of the text, the students need a working model of gender and race, and how they played out one hundred and fifty years ago.

 

Those issues are key to the story.

 

But so are many other pieces of information.

 

These are emerging readers, so there is a lot to unpack on every page.

 

Reading aloud as a group, their teacher stops them every sentence or two to check in.

 

She'll ask about the gender implications of petticoats. 

 

But she'll also check in to make sure everyone knows about the Gold Rush.

 

Were horses a fancy thing then, or an everyday thing?

 

Is a stableboy a hard job to have? What is an overseer?

 

What is the difference between a freedman and an enslaved person? Between "untied" and "united"?

 

Class, race and gender are part of the conversation, but they are only part of it.

 

The payoff, for students, is a richer sense of the novel's world.

 

That makes for a more compelling read.

 

Throughout chapter one, the students peppered their teacher with questions:

 

"Does the horse die?"

 

"Did Charlotte feel like a girl or a boy?

 

In both cases, the teacher's answer was the same: "Let's keep reading and see what we can find out."