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Senior Seminar: Social Justice Literature
Submitted by news on Oct 10th, 2012
Senior Seminars in English are opportunities to take advantage of the deeper knowledge of our faculty—beyond the nuts and bolts of grammar, composition, and the other tools we learn in the lower grades. Juan Rodriguez teaches Social Justice Literature because it's what he loves. And his students elect to take the course because Juan loves what he's teaching and encourages them to explore the subject with him. They've recently completed reading I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, a Nobel Prize winner who describes the virtual enslavement of her people, the Quiché Indians, by the United Fruit Company in the late 1960s and early 70s for the purpose of producing fruit inexpensively to be sold at a great profit in the United States. The book focuses on how the Quiché maintained their cultural identity by intentionally rejecting the culture of their "ladino" adversaries, and thereby strengthening Quiché culture. It's a complicated, beautiful, horrible story of triumph in adversity—and a lesson worth learning.
The class stands on its own by virtue of the subject matter and Juan's expertise. But there's so much more to the story. Students at The Putney School hail from 27 states and 17 foreign countries, including four students in Social Justice Literature born and raised in China. Imagine an English teacher of Mexican descent discussing the life and times of a Quiché Indian woman with students from the United States and China in a high school classroom situated on a bucolic hillside in rural Vermont and you'll just begin seeing how deep a diverse yet finely focused educational experience can go.
In their latest class, everyone came prepared to discuss essays they wrote about specific aspects of the book. Here are some of Shuo's comments on his essay.
Next up is Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. And, yes, they are still teenagers and thought it was hilarious to misspell "teacher" in the photo.