A Poetic Finale
PURPOSE OF LESSON
With this lesson, I want to give students a chance to express themselves about the Holocaust in a form that is meaningful to them. As educators, we sometimes have a rather limited sense of what our students are really thinking, or how they are experiencing an emotional topic like the Holocaust. A research paper may allow students to demonstrate their reasoning about this complex period. However, this form of writing is not usually the best forum for self-expression. Poetry, on the other hand, is self-expression. It invites students to synthesize core human experiences, bringing thought and emotion seamlessly together in meaningful ways.
In the PBS program Fooling with Words, poet Mark Doty elaborates on the need to create when confronted with obstacles: “You can’t do anything to stop a terminal illness. You can’t stop the course of time. But … I could make something to serve as a kind of vessel for what I felt, a representation in that moment in time. And there I had some authority … It is a small gesture against loss. And yet, over time, that gesture becomes a larger one because that work of making something for yourself becomes translated into a gift for other people” (Source: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/foolingwithwords/main_tv.html). Responding to the Holocaust with poetry can give students a chance to create their own representations of the event and to offer a gift to future learners, the gift of witness.
Despite poetry’s expressive power, all too often students resist this communicative form. In addressing this challenge, this lesson uses Remedy’s rap song as a bridge. As the author of Inside City Schools: Investigating Literacy in Multicultural Classrooms suggests, “A multicultural curriculum that connects explicitly to the lives of those students who have not been well represented in the traditional curriculum and who have not before shown an interest in the academic content of the school is especially helpful for motivating students to both read and write” (Chapter 12, p. 227, Learning from M-Class: Thoughts for the Future Inside City Schools: Investigating Literacy in Multicultural Classrooms, ed. Sarah Warshauer Freedman, Elizabeth Radin Simons, and Julie Shalhope Kalnin [New York City: M-Class Teams Teachers College Press, 1999]). In my experience, learning that someone from the world of hip-hop has connected poetry and Holocaust content inspires students to make their own connections.
By considering and valuing a cultural form—rap music—that is often dismissed as a basic manifestation of a shallow popular culture, this lesson seeks to emphasize students’ experience and intimately inform their identity formation. As described in Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education, our challenge and responsibility as educators becomes one of learning to “understand, affirm, and analyze such experience. This means not only understanding the cultural and social forms through which students learn to define themselves, but also understanding how to use that student experience in ways that neither unqualifiedly endorse nor delegitimate it” (p. 217, Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education, 3rd ed. [New York: Peter McLaren Longman (an imprint of Addison Wesley Longman), 1998]).