Possible addition of new English classes

Two classes proposed based on the oppression of BIPOC/LGBTQ+ authors and strides towards equality.

With more headway toward equity and acceptance for all, Oak Park High School is considering adding two new English classes inspired by the ongoing social movements.

English teacher Jennifer Hankins is in the midst of composing her proposal for “Voices for Change,” a class (whose name may be altered) that revolves around progression toward a just society by spotlighting past protests in the United States. Hankins drew her inspiration from recent events, such as the death of George Floyd and the corresponding Black Lives Matter protests and worked closely with Kathy Bowman, English Department Chair, to make this class a reality.

According to Hankins, “Voices for Change” will be “inquiry-based wherein students will be focusing on the following driving question: How can people work together effectively to create a more socially just society?” 

In order to go into depth and thoroughly cover the material, the class will encompass only a select few social movements.

“There are three particular social movements I am thinking of incorporating: the Women’s Rights Movement (especially since this year is the 100th year celebration of women’s right to vote), the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary movement led by teenagers as seen in the response to the Parkland school shooting, Greta Thunberg’s environmental activism, and the Indigenous youth group movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Hankins wrote to the Talon. “I am considering adding the LGBTQ movement as another unit of study.”

Students taking the course will also study a social movement of their choice. They will then turn their acquired information on that movement into a research project and present it for the class.

Hankins was motivated to get her class up and running by fellow English teacher, Leslie Miller, who was already in the process of implementing her own new class when Hankins began. 

Mrs. Bowman, the head of the English Department, has been extremely supportive and my conversations with Ms. Miller regarding the literature class she wants to teach has motivated me even more to create the class,” Hankins wrote.

While both classes focus on the expression of people and the importance of speaking out, “Own Voices,” taught by Miller, is more literature based. Her class will zero in on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors and their experiences with repression.

“[Students taking the course will] read and study books by American authors whose voices have either been silenced, oppressed, marginalized or distorted,” Miller wrote to the Talon. “It’s about hearing the stories of people of color told in their own voices.”

One book incorporated into the class is “Between the World and Me,” which is a three-tier letter written to the son of Ta-Nehisi (the author). The story provides students with a first hand view of the life of a black man in America and what exactly that entails. 

Miller’s class resides closely to her heart, as her biracial son, Gianluca Miller, serves as her source of inspiration to educate others about the treatment of people of color in our world.

“When it comes to the story of black people especially, I am inspired by the deepest, the most abiding and the most personal reason one can have to do anything in this world — my son, Gianluca, who is biracial,” Miller wrote.

If these classes are approved, seniors at Oak Park High School can expect “Voices for Change” and “Own Voices” as course options for the 2021-22 school year.

“These classes would be such a fresh opportunity to learn about literature and writing styles in relation to historical struggles of non-dominant groups rather than just the same classics we are used to,” junior Hannah Levy wrote to the Talon. “I might be interested in taking ‘Voices for Change.’”