Feminist Friday: Using YA Lit to Tackle Controversial Topics in the Classroom

“Mrs. Brown, will you debate with me (about abortion)?”

“Mrs. Brown, do you believe in God?”

“Mrs. Brown, teach us about your views on feminism.”

“Mrs. Brown, what are your thoughts on The Wall?”

“Mrs. Brown, how do you feel about Trump?”

I’ve heard every one of these questions over the course of this year. My standard answer?

“I’m sorry, guys, but you know I don’t discuss (insert issue here) in class.”

Don’t get me wrong, my students know I’m a feminist. I’m openly opposed to discrimination, which means I support issues like gay marriage. But beyond knowing that I’m open-minded, I don’t really allow them to know my thoughts on the hard issues. My response when they ask why is that I don’t want to influence their thinking… I want them to come to their own conclusions.

I know this is the “professional” answer. And I really do want them to come to their own conclusions, based on research and a knowledge of current events. But because of a fear of overstepping my boundaries, I’ve allowed myself to miss out on teachable moments when I could have had an impactful conversation about true-to-life topics with my students.

Which is what (partly) inspired this post. Along with what I’m writing here, you will find a book review for Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough. That book is the second part of the inspiration.

I’ve kicked myself so many times for not taking the chance to have hard conversations with my students. Because, here’s the thing: if we, as educators, do not teach them the proper way to have these conversations now, how will they be able to do so later in life? I believe it is our job to provide a safe space for them to explore controversial topics, so that they may learn, not only from second hand sources, but from each other.

Which brings me to Blood Water Paint and how this all ties in to our theme of Feminist Friday…

The novel is about rape. Plain and simple. And when we put this type of literature into a student’s hands, we open up the possibility for a conversation.

We suddenly have a chance to talk about what rape culture is.

We suddenly are able to explain how the blame is often placed on the victim, not the predator.

We suddenly have the chance to discuss how rape often occurs among friends.

We suddenly are able to explain that rape happens to both boys and girls, men and women.

1 in 4 females on college campuses. 1 in 16 males.**

Guys.

This is such an important conversation to have. And oftentimes, we have it too late.

Because of novels like Blood Water Paint, we are able to open up new topics of conversation. Hard topics of conversation. Necessary topics of conversation.

Which is why independent reading, book clubs, socratic seminars, are all important methods that should be implemented in the English classroom.

Now, I am a year one teacher. I have not successfully managed this yet. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to write a post for you that shows how to implement effective strategies to do exactly what I’m suggesting…

But for now, I think it is important that we become aware of the power we have as educators, English teachers, to teach our students lessons that reach so very far beyond the classroom.

**Stats pulled from this TED talk.

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