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ACADEMIC CONTEXT Examining personal identity, particularly with an emphasis on race, extends across many disciplines.

I believe these include: sociology, psychology, ethnic studies, media studies, and literature. When designing this unit, however, I did not look to experts in these fields so much as to experts in education. In my view, this is because to explore identity with students in a classroom is as much about pedagogy as it is about content. In other words, centering students identities as important points of inquiry represents a progressive pedagogical stance, not merely a decision about which pieces of content knowledge are worth having. The philosophical and practical role models for this unit, then, are progressive educators such as Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Mica Pollock, Sean Arce, Sonia Nieto and Gary Howard. Each of these educators has written of the need to position identity at the center of schooling, whether for the purpose of liberation (as Freire would say) or significantly improved dropout rates (as has been the result of the Tucson Unified School Districts Mexican American Studies program). Educational inquiries into identity (particularly a politicized identity such as race or class) have been met with resistance. The Mexican American Studies program in Tucson may again serve as an example here; we could also look further back to the Highlander Folk School. However, there is institutional support for studies of identity in school. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) published, in 2002, a new set of standards for teaching social studies. Broader than the Common Core standards, the NCSS standards are grouped into themes. One of these themes is Individual Development and Identity, and includes the expectation that [a]ll individuals should know the factors that contribute to who they are (National Council for the Social Studies, 2002). Reading the list of Teacher Expectations for this thematic standard is nearly akin to reading a list of my desired goals for this unit,

especially where they write that teachers should assist learners in articulating personal connections to time, place, and social/cultural systems. and assist learners to describe how family, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, and other group and cultural influences contribute to the development of a sense of self (National Council for the Social Studies, 2002). Throughout their examination of identity, my hope is that the students will also be acquiring and honing important skills. Primarily, they will be analyzing a variety of media forms fictional and non-fictional text, poetry, images and video. Analyzing various aspects of fiction and non-fiction texts has been a common focus in my classroom throughout the year, both in guided reading and shared reading activities. By contrast, other forms of media visual media, we could say have been absent as objects of critical analysis. As young people are continually exposed to, and targeted by, these forms of media earlier and more often, researchers in education are beginning to emphasize the importance of critical media literacy (e.g., Kellner & Share, 2007).

WHY IS THIS INTERESTING To my students? I chose race and identity as the foci of my unit due to the very fact that my students had expressed interest. During lessons I taught earlier this year, in their morning journal entries, and in informal conversation, different students have exhibited a desire to know their history and to share those aspects of their identities that feel important to them. For example, I led a shared reading activity centered on Mildred D. Taylors novella The Gold Cadillac, in which a black family from Ohio experiences a racist incident in the Jim Crow South. The students interest was evident in the looks on their faces and the length of our

discussion, as they continued to ask questions and offer thoughts. In their written responses to the story, several of them made connections between the 1950s and today, noting that there are still racist people today. A variety of educators and scholars have observed that students are often keenly aware of, as well as curious about, the role that race plays in their identities and in the larger world (e.g. Torre & Fine, 2008; Tatum, 1997; Chang & Conrad, 2008). From my experience, such observations hold true in my classroom. Had my students not previously expressed this interest, I am not sure that I still would have planned this unit. However, in a more general sense, I do believe that examining identity could be meaningful for any group of sixth graders. With one foot still in childhood and the other planted firmly in adolescence, eleven, twelve and thirteen year-olds are undergoing significant changes. Throughout this year, I have observed as any given students behavior might shift on a weekly basis. It is almost as though they are trying out different roles, testing different identities. The extent to which these decisions are made selfconsciously I do not know; the point remains, however, that identity appears extremely important in the social lives of these young people. To position this at the center of their studies, then, could be an effective way to make the curriculum feel meaningful to their hereand-now, so to speak. Yet, I knew this would only really work if the students were allowed to bring their voices and personal lives (to the extent they feel comfortable) into the unit. When we talk about identity we talk, directly or indirectly, about ourselves; any claims we make about identity have personal implications. This is because, of course, we all have an identity. My sincere hope is that the tasks in this unit feel authentic for the students because, at any given point, they are talking again, directly or indirectly about themselves. Through these tasks, they will have the opportunity to process, analyze, and articulate their own experience of life

as they are living it at that very moment. The goal, after all, is not that they come to any lasting conclusion but rather that they develop cognitive tools for reflection and analysis.

To me? When I moved to Seattle after graduating from college, I found a job at a non-profit that had worked antiracism into its entire framework. During our weekly team meetings, we participated in trainings and conversations that, to this day, affect the way I think about how identity functions on both a systemic and personal level. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I have come to feel that the result of these trainings was the removal of a metaphorical veil that allowed me to begin to see a more realistic picture of American society. (It could be said that this veil was internalized racism, and it could also be said that it was not removed but only that its presence was made known to me.) Since then, I have continued my own education by reading the work of progressive educators who call for race and identity to be addressed directly in schools, rather than continue to act out the damaging script of colorblindness. I had this transformative learning experience after I received my education (to use the word in the Mark Twain sense). Until that time, I was operating under a myopic belief that identity did not contain any political relevance. I would argue that such a belief is the natural result of the mainstream American narrative about race and gender. The progressive educators cited in the first section of this paper write of the ways that pedagogy and curriculum can disrupt this narrative, and I agree. Education represents a potential site for such a disruption and for the beginning of a reorientation toward antiracism. Thus, this topic is of such interest to me because I believe it to be of great importance.

C. ACCESSIBILITY In terms of developmental appropriateness My unit relies upon the expectation that my students will be able to think in abstract ways and engage in extended discussions. They must be able to critically analyze media forms as well as think meta-cognitively about their own identities. From a developmental perspective, this is an appropriate expectation for them as twelve and thirteen year-olds, even as the Piagetian model of discrete developmental stages becomes more outdated (Siegler, 1996). My Penn Mentor, who taught students in this age group for thirty years (a fact that she will not let me forget, and which perhaps makes her as much an expert as anyone), has also continually assured me that, at this age, students are capable of deep and abstract thought when provided the proper facilitation and framework. I also can rely on my own experience throughout the year to verify the students ability in this respect. As a student teacher, I have facilitated more than a few open discussions about a particular text in which the students displayed a capacity to make inferences and connections of the type that are the goal of this unit.

In terms of available resources Arguably the greatest benefit of pursuing an inquiry into identity is that it is inward facing, at least in the way that I envision it. By this I mean that, at least in theory, the unit relies more on effectively structured and facilitated dialogue that draws upon pre-existing knowledge than it does upon exposure to outside resources. The result is a curricular unit that can work within a school context where, for instance, field trips may not be feasible due to constraints on money and time.

Through this unit, I also take the stance that the funds of knowledge with which the students enter the classroom can be more than just a foundation for inquiry, but the entire focus of the inquiry itself (Moll et al., 1992). In this spirit, I consider my students families and neighborhood as outside resources of primary importance, since their ideas about identity likely have been hugely shaped by their development within these contexts. I am fortunate in that the students will have access to these resources everyday. This may be particularly true in a neighborhood with a history that includes the childhood of Marian Anderson, the First African Baptist Church, and the Christian Street YMCA, one of the oldest black YMCAs in the nation (Washington, 1987).

D. OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONNECTIONS As I wrote in the second section of this essay, the impetus for this unit came from the students themselves, and their expressed interest in racism and black history. From my perspective, these do not seem to be topics that they feel uncomfortable discussing. I do not know what various beliefs and ideas my students hold regarding identity and discrimination. I do know that they are growing up in a socio-cultural context that downplays identity-based discrimination because it gets in the way of the assertion of a meritocracy. Why do I write this? I write this because my overly ambitious goal for this unit is that, whether this year or ten years from now, these students will have some understanding that identity continues to play an influential role in the social and political spheres. This can extend to thinking about personal experiences, current events, literature, or history. Because the study of identity is so personal, I do believe the opportunities for connection are limitless.

WORKS CITED Chang, K. & Conrad, R. (2008). Following Childrens Leads in Conversations About Race. In M. Pollock (Ed.), Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School (34-38). New York: The New Press. Kellner, D. & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy is not an option. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 59-69. Moll, L.C, Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. National Council for the Social Studies. (2002). National Standards for Social Studies Teachers. Retrieved from Siegler, R.S. & Ellis, S. (1996). Piaget on Childhood. Psychological Science, (7)4, 211-215. Tatum, B.D. (1997). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? New York: Basic Books. Torre, M.E. & Fine, M. (2008). Engaging Youth in Participatory Inquiry for Social Justice. In M. Pollock (Ed.), Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School (165-171). New York: The New Press. Washington, L. (1987, October 23). Everybody Knows Y on Christian St. The Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved from