“Today I want to talk about our assignment– on your names, the teacher tells us, and I want to do a fishbowl activity.”  She invites five to join an inner circle, which will discuss a prompt– derived from their writing assignment.   She explains the fishbowl process, where those on the outside circle can come into the fishbowl by tapping on someone inside it.    ”In your experience, with your names, what is the defining power of your name?”  One student begins by explaining the cultural traditions of Korean names, and that no one really thinks about their name and what it means.    Another student disagrees– “I think my name has a lot of importance, it is the first thing you learn about someone, and it is your nametag for the rest of your life– it is the first emotional connection you have of someone.   If you don’t know someone’s name, that person doesn’t exist for you, it connects you more to someone, knowing their name.”   Another speaks of the cultural traditions built into his name, and how important that is to him.   Lots of laughter here, and good attentiveness.  Our teacher is setting the prompts, but she is really letting the students do a high proportion of the talking and thinking here, which I appreciate.     Now there is beginning a clamor of students eager to join the circle, waiting for a chance to “tap in.”   We are now discussing names that carry with them very heavy pressure of expectations, and a student speaks about being named for his grandfather, who was a very powerful and successful person, a chief of his native tribe and a national leader in all of his home African nation.   Big pressure, he says, but also a motivator.     It is a nice conversation, it is a topic that is personally relevant to these kids, that they find meaning in– it is about their own names, and through the discussion I think they are learning more about each other, about their backgrounds, and maybe by reflection learning more about themselves.

The course is called English 4: We Real Cool, as in the Brooks poem.   The subtitle is Songs of Global Multicultural Youth and Identity, and here is a quote:

In Gwendolyn Brook’s “We Real Cool,” the young characters in the poem must decide what type of destiny they wish to create for themselves within the context of their environment; it is the classic struggle for many adolescents. This course studies traditional and contemporary “coming of age” stories through the lenses of multicultural literature, poetry, and music with a special reference to hip hop. Research shows that young people from ages 12 – 24 are the most heavily securitized, media-targeted and media-obsessed cohort in history. With the presence and global success of the hip hop movement framing and blurring the lines of race, language, and culture, this course examines what it means to define personal and cultural values. Further what does it mean to unearth your individuality in a consumer-oriented society which produces and profits upon “cool” and “youth images”? By privileging the voices of multicultural writers, students will be able to shed some light on the complexities of identity formation and youth subcultures in the United States and abroad.

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