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Can I Teach That?
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Can I Teach That? Negotiating Taboo Language and Controversial Topics in the Language Arts Classroom is a collection of stories, strategies, advice, and documents collected for teachers who are using or plan to use materials or implement policies they know may be controversial. It is for any teacher dedicated to engaging their students in the complex, challenging, and rewarding activities of reading and writing, for any teacher committed to speaking honestly with students. For any teacher, period. Because when we decide to work with young people, when we commit to sharing books and ideas that engage their hearts and minds, when we strive to get adolescents to think critically and write honestly, we open ourselves up to suspicion and critique from someone, somewhere, no matter how above reproach we feel our materials and strategies are. Few language arts teachers will experience a full-blown challenge to the content of their curriculum, but many may self-censor or suffer through awkward and challenging conversations with colleagues, administrators, parents, and other members of their community. This book is for those times when teachers are called on to defend and legitimize their use of controversial material in their classroom--material that they know reflects students' reality, even as it makes adults uncomfortable and fearful about their inability to protect children from that very reality.
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Table of Contents

Preface Suzanne Linder and Elizabeth Majerus Chapter 1. Don't Shy Away from Books About Tough Issues Jabari Asim Chapter 2. Teaching the Banned Books Project Stephen E. Rayburn Chapter 3. A True War Story: Addressing the Real Obscenities Suzanne Linder Chapter 4. Creative Profanity: Strong Language in Student Work Elizabeth Majerus Chapter 5. Defending Arnold's Spirit: Battling a Big Book Challenge in a Small Town Amy Collins Chapter 6. Challenging Homophobic and Heteronormative Language: Queering The Merchant of Venice Stephanie Ann Shelton Chapter 7. From Canon to "Pornography": Common Core and the Backlash Against Multicultural Literature Loretta Gaffney Chapter 8. The Fine Art of Defusing an N-Bomb: The Challenges of Navigating Racially Charged Language in the (Majority White) African American Literature Classroom Matt Mitchell Chapter 9. Too Close to Dead: Addressing Racist Language Head-On in the African American ELA Classroom Jalisa Bates Chapter 10. Libraries Unfiltered: Increase Access, Grow the Whole Child Frances Jacobson Harris and Amy L. Atkinson Appendix A Telling your own True War Story assignment B Uni High Materials Selection Policy C A List of Resources and Case Law for Book Challenges D Sample discussion questions to begin queer examinations of The Merchant of Venice E Poetry Reading Assignment About the Authors

About the Author

Suzanne Linder taught English, Social Justice, and Gender Studies at University of Illinois Laboratory High School for 17 years. Along the way she traveled with students to Mississippi, Greece, and Italy, converted a car to run on waste vegetable oil, produced-with students-a documentary on what it means to be labeled gifted, and mentored a student led writing center. She currently serves as the Director of Academic Programs for the Education Justice Project and works as a teacher consultant with the Fab Lab, a community makerspace at the University of Illinois. Elizabeth Majerus has taught Language Arts and English at the middle school, high school, and college level. She currently teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, where she is head of the English department. She is an avid reader of challenging and challenged books.

Reviews

In their book, Can I Teach That?: Negotiating Taboo Language and Controversial Topics in the Language Arts Classroom, Suzanne Linder and Elizabeth Majerus offer a timely and intelligent discussion about the texts and topics. It seems more important than ever to think through the questions this book raises, for we are all struggling to understand what to teach, how and why to teach it so that we might address these pressing social issues in ways that prepare our students to enter into and contribute to the larger conversations going on in college and society at large. That they do all this through engaging chapters written by teachers who anchor their practical examples in real classrooms full of real kids makes the book all the more useful and relevant. Their book answers its own question-Can I teach that?-with a resounding, "Yes!" -- Jim Burke, author of "The English Teacher's Companion" and winner of the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award When instructional conversations turn to controversial issues, the best teachers won't back down. This casebook collects a variety of audacious and thoughtful examples for those seeking to spark authentic dialogue around intellectual freedom issues and for those negotiating the charged study of vernacular language in the secondary classroom. Most importantly, it demonstrates handily that the rich learning resulting from embracing provocative content is worth that risk. -- Wendy Stephens, program chair, library media, Jacksonville State University Linder and Majerus, along with nine other educators, have created a must read for all teachers who attempt to open dialogue and engage critical thought around the texts of their students' lives. The chapters are songs of experience, tales of complexity, reflections on struggles, and pathways toward agency and change. No one shirks from sketching the messiness, but nor do they shirk from sharing the possibilities. A very necessary book. -- Bob Fecho, professor, Teachers College, New York

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