Through Their Eyes

This week, colleagues and I checked out Through Their Eyes: Tuscaloosa City Students on Race, 60 Years After Brown at a local gallery.  The exhibit, closely linked to this recent piece in The Atlantic, showcases student photographs depicting life at two of our three city high schools, and accompanying labels underscore points made by the author of the article regarding racial separation in our system.

While I’ve spent a great deal of time since the article’s publication, as well as more time this week after viewing the exhibit, wrangling with questions about race and education, this post is not about that.

As an English teacher, the students’ work and the context in which it was displayed prompted me to consider the duty we have in helping our students to tell their own stories, not ours.  I am not implying that the student photographers included in Through Their Eyes were misused, their stories manipulated, or their perspectives misrepresented.  This may be exactly the story the students would choose, unprompted and unguided, to tell.  I am not in a position to judge either way.

But I have some thoughts related to my own practice…

It is so important to find a balance between pushing student narratives to new places and sidestepping any inclinations to lead them to predetermined spots.  How do we navigate that?

Does my classroom provide opportunities for students to tell their stories, make their points, share their perspectives, not mine?  Do my questions lead or show bias?

Can a lens ever become a blinder?

At this time every year, even as I’m getting sniffly about the prospect of sending my kids off to high school, I start to itch for the fresh start that August brings.  My social studies partner- in-crime and I have mapped out the framework for 2014-2015’s collaboration, which asks students to consider identity, community, otherness, and cultural influences throughout their own histories and the history of the world, and I will take this week’s lessons with me as I plan next year.  I am so excited to set things up and then get out of the way so that they can show us the world through their eyes.