Saved by Teaching (not for the first time)

Like most women I call friends, I am stricken with grief over the departure of Elizabeth Warren from the presidential race. Oh, sure I have lots of male friends who are upset and disappointed and had strongly supported her candidacy, but so many women are feeling utterly bereft. We are being told again that it’s not our time. At a time when change is urgently needed, we are being told that the person who is obviously by the far best equipped to accomplish that change is just not going to be the one. That the next president will be a white man in his seventies seems pretty inevitable now.

So it was with that heaviness in my heart that I prepared to teach my Methods of Teaching Writing course. The plan for that evening, written a couple of months ago was to have the students read Letter from a Birmingham Jail in class, annotate and discuss and have the students write their own responses. King’s letter addresses sympathetic white clergymen who have suggested that leaders of the Civil Rights movement be content to wait for gradual social change, rather than organize protests. King argues that people with power never give it up willingly, that the people who want their fair share of power must demand it in ways that are often disruptive and cause tension and discomfort.

Rereading the letter to prepare for class, I could not help but see it through the lens of recent events. I began highlighting and annotating the text, finally arriving at the idea that I would begin class by asking them to write in response to the question: When it is acceptable to create tension in others? Students wrote freely and discussed their ideas in small groups, then we came together to read Dr. King’s letter.

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