Monday, April 6, 2015

The Sounds of Change

I am proud to announce that my other "baby," a unit of lessons I helped develop for Facing History & Ourselves and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, has seen the light of day...or rather found its way into the hands of educators across the city.

Not that I had anything to do with the publishing side, but it looks pretty professional, if I do say so myself:

The Sounds of Change web resources
The Sounds of Change pdf

Writing these lessons took a lot of effort  and required a journey into the unknown, similar to motherhood; however, I have another reason to think of them as my child: I began the work very shortly after Elsa was born. While it may have been foolish to take on such a project so soon after welcoming a newborn into our home, there is a very real possibility that this work helped keep me sane. At the very least, it helped maintain a tenuous grasp on what I used to consider normal.

I'm not intentionally trying to be hyperbolic here; becoming a mother is like stepping off a diving board into the deep end, with arms and legs flailing about in the water and lungs gasping for air. Perhaps a calmer metaphor is one I read that described motherhood as putting on a pair of jeans just out of the wash. At first, they're tight and uncomfortable, and you have to do all of these self-conscious embarrassing moves to get them to fit. But then after a while, they get soft and fit so comfortably. You don't mind wiping dirty hands on them, and you can't imagine wearing anything else.

So, that's where I was when I began this writing project. Having something more mentally stimulating than nursing a baby and changing diapers gave me an intellectual sense of purpose. Plus, it helped my ego to be asked to do it.

I begrudgingly admit that there was a reason I had to endure my miserable stint teaching 8th grade when we first moved to Memphis. I don't know that I would give Jon the satisfaction of knowing he was right when he wouldn't "let" me quit all those years ago, but I suppose, in a roundabout way, that I'm glad I stuck it out.

That job introduced me to Facing History & Ourselves, an organization that "provides ideas, methods, and tools that support the practical needs, and the spirits of educators worldwide who share the goal of creating a better, more informed, and more thoughtful society" ( Our representatives from Facing History provided us with resources to work on a year-long project on bullying, incorporating historical information from the Little Rock Nine, the brave group of high school students chosen to integrate Little Rock Central High School.

Inspired by that partnership, I wrote an article that was published in English Journal (see my post all about it), which is a pretty big deal if you're an English teacher. And as a result of that work, I was asked to write lessons for a new curriculum Facing History was pursuing with the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. So, really, there would be no lessons without that crappy job.

While it took many phone calls, meetings, and drafts to figure out what exactly the lessons would look like, it was an exciting project. Jon and I fell in love with the gritty soul music of Stax when we moved to Memphis, and our (limited) knowledge of its history made it easy to see a natural connection between the racially integrated record company and the message Facing History promotes.

The unit proved to be more research project than lesson planning, and all that I learned was fascinating. There were many days that I had a book propped up next to a nursing pillow and nights that we stayed up (when we should have been "sleeping when the baby sleeps") to watch concert videos and documentaries. Elsa listened to more soul music in her early days than nursery rhymes. I even got to go to the house of one of the original Stax musicians to interview him.

The entire project turned out to be much more in-depth and time-consuming than any of us dreamed. My part of it was actually finished over a year ago, but there was still a lot to do regarding publication, including securing the rights to music, video, and photos (all things I wouldn't have to worry about if writing lessons for only my own classroom). And of course, there were additional changes and edits to my writing...but fortunately, since it's been so long and since there were so many drafts along the way, I'm not too hung up on that minor detail.

As it is surely obvious by now, I am extremely proud of this project and am so excited that students are going to be working with this material. It was really cool to attend an educators' workshop and realize that students and teachers are going to be having the important conversations we'd envisioned from the beginning. (That's more or less what I told the reporter from the local newspaper, anyway; I'd post a link to that, too, but they have a pay wall on their website.)


Anne Bennett said...

You rock! I am aware of Facing the History project but I think they require a subscription to access their resources. Thanks for using your talents to help others out.

Spoon said...

Thanks, Anne! I don't know how it's been in the past, but I know that this resource is completely free to access. They made a point of saying that at the workshop, although they did say you may need to create a username and password.