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To Carve Out New Orders In Experience"1: Imagination In A Social Action Literacy Project
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This country is definitely not perfect and this world is not perfect. If you take these issues and deal with them one by one, we can kind of resolve them. We won't put an end to it but we can actually decrease it and lessen it, so it will be better.â€”Cara, an eighth grader.Cara believes in the possibility of change for the better. In the quote above, she has imagined citizens confronting social ills and working toward an improved society. However, many eighth graders in Class 345 expressed such visions as they created social action literacy projects. Through their work, they tackled a range of civic problems including high school dropout rates and domestic abuse, exercising their Vibram Five Fingers critical consciousness and displaying a willingness to imagine how their world could be different. Multiple iterations of the students' imaginations surfaced, prompting me to continuously expand my understanding of adolescents' activist identities. In this article, I describe the unfolding of the social action literacy project and two students' experiences. I share these cases with the belief that teachers can learn from youth, as their responses to the project illuminate the ways social action can provoke adolescents' imaginations in English classrooms.
1. Social Action in Class 345
Scott and the students enacted the social action curriculum daily during a 90-minute period from March through June. Overall, the students conducted research on a range of social issues and then composed and presented texts on these issues.
2. Students as Researchers
The project began when Scott asked the students to make ethnographic observations of their neighborhood. They documented their lived experiences and collected "seed ideas" in their writing journals. He told the students to "stay close to home" and "describe something you have seen." They also routinely read newspapers looking for articles on issues of social reform. To record their learning, Scott asked the students to summarize the articles and identify what the journalists or subjects think should be reformed. This process provoked engaging conversations on the war in Iraq and immigrant rights, among other issues. The students also researched activists' experiences by independently reading biographies of people who have "used their voices to make a change," including Malcolm X and Anne Frank, and interviewing a tenant organizer in their community. Additionally, Scott prompted them to compose journal entries about change-makers in their personal lives. This research process asked students to identify various social problems and the possibility of reform.
As the students' banks of seed ideas grew, Scott designed activities that highlighted distinctions between the issues. First, they categorized the problems as international, national, or local. Days later, he asked themVibram Five Fingers On Sale to label each idea with one of the following codes: "someone should do something about this" and "way to make the world better." In asking them to identify what it would mean for the world to be "better," Scott showed his commitment to what he called "seeing answers and thinking in hopeful ways." Encouraging the students to be forward thinking in this way may have particularly ignited their imaginations, as he called on them to envision and plan for a better world.
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