At Proctor, we live in this wonderful bubble where intellectual curiosity is celebrated, students embrace challenging conversations alongside each other, safely travel the world on Proctor’s off-campus programs, warm meals are provided three times a day, and our biggest stress is not having enough hours in the day to learn all we want to learn. Families choose to invest in this safe, supportive, intentional learning community at Proctor, and it is without a doubt the best environment for students to learn about themselves and the world around them.
However, to limit our classrooms to this bubble is a disservice to our students. We wrote about the power of proximity in this blog post from February, and noted, “Proximate learning does not occur without risk (both physical and emotional), but it is when students are living their education alongside the issues they are studying that worldviews are transformed.” We discussed the plethora of ways this educational model is implemented at Proctor. Today we look at the interactive project Tom Morgan’s American Literature classes have begun with John Around Him’s (below) Honors Literature class at the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore, Maryland (Cristo Rey has some amazing programs as well!).
Throughout the fall and winter trimesters, Proctor’s American Literature students have studied the creation of the “American Dream” and the problems associated with the American Dream through books like The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Their analysis has looked at the issues challenging the pursuit of the American Dream through the lens of race, class, and gender. This spring, however, the classes have shifted their attention to critiquing the American Dream itself by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ American Book Award winning Between the World and Me.
Ta-Nehisi Coates hits hard with his writing as he challenges the American Dream as foundationally corrupt based on the fact American society was founded on the institution of slavery. Tom’s students have been exploring how those of privilege are conditioned to look away from the problems facing those lacking that same privilege, whereas those born out of this privilege have no way to look away from the unavoidable injustice that too often defines their lives.
Reading Between the World and Me within our bubble of privilege would undoubtedly be powerful, but Tom and John Around Him (whose father, John Around Him, taught at Proctor with Albert White Hat decades ago), recognized the opportunity to bring proximity to both of their classes through a collaborative project. (Here Proctor's Technology Integrationist Adam Jones explains to Tom and Jon Jon how to use ChalkUp to share classes).
Using this shared classroom technology (the same method used for Proctor's Globalization course collaboration with students in Egypt this year) American Literature students have joined together with Cristo Rey students to read (thanks to the generosity of Mainstreet Bookends and Proctor’s administration for providing copies of the books to Cristo Rey students), process, and digest Between the World and Me through the very different lenses of urban Baltimore and rural New Hampshire. The two classes have shared ‘welcome’ videos (Cristo Rey's video is below), and have a series of upcoming assignments designed to provide a window into individual’s lives in both classes.
Through this “Coates Collaborative”, as Tom and Jon Jon have called their project, students from very, very different backgrounds have been brought together to discuss the American Dream and to hopefully learn how to walk in each other’s shoes. As Kevin ‘18 (below) mentioned, walking out of Tom’s class the other day, “A lot of Proctor kids are very creative, incredibly polite, very open-minded outside the box thinkers, and really accepting. However, we have a really hard time seeing anything outside of our socioeconomic experience. Many of us have blinders on to anything outside this bubble.”
Our role, and we believe our responsibility as a school, is to intentionally move our students outside this bubble during their time at Proctor. If we are unwilling to get proximate to the issues we are studying, we are unwilling to fully embrace the true power of the experiences that lie before us.