“[It was] a small rebellion against the regime because they weren’t allowed to wear color, and they weren’t allowed to be beautiful,” said junior Clara Addison, her eyes alight with interest as she presented the book Reading Lolita in Tehran.
Recently, Clara and her fellow AP English 11 classmates were assigned to give book reports. However, these were no regular book reports. Each student chose his or her reading from a list of books originally assembled for the sake of a juvenile court sentencing.
Ojai Valley School English teacher Terry Wilson’s interest was piqued when she read a New York Times article about five teens who vandalized Virginia’s historic Ashburn Colored School, and, as their sentence, were handed a reading list. The court’s disposition required the students to read and give monthly reports on 12 books from a list of 35 that address “some of history’s most divisive and tragic periods.”
Ms. Wilson found this situation fascinating, and so she decided to bring the court to her classroom, in the form of the judge’s book list. She asked each of her students to choose one book from the list to read over the week-long winter break.
“I thought, you know I should get the students to read these books,” Ms. Wilson said. “I just wanted everyone to read something – I think it is important that you guys keep reading. These just seemed like really good books to suggest.”
The goal was for students, upon returning to school, to present reports on their books. They were to give their thoughts on why the court chose their book for the disposition, as well as to share personal opinions and hopefully interest their classmates, and thus encourage more reading.
“I thought the list of books given to us were fascinating,” said junior Jacob Tadlock, avid reader and student of Ms. Wilson. “There are several books [on the list] I’d love to read once I get enough time.”
The books all follow a common theme of prejudice, and they cover a broad range of subjects, from the pain and horrors of the Jim Crowe South, to moments of hope and color for the women of Iran during revolutionary times, to images of a bleak future with no women’s rights and an extremely stratified society.
“Each one of these books has similar themes, in terms of discrimination and the ways people have dealt with it,” Ms. Wilson said.
As word of her assignment spread among the faculty, an idea began swirling.
Each year, all OVS students are assigned the same book, or couple of books, to read over the summer. What if a few books from this list were chosen for the all-school reading? Aside from being well-written, the books all cover topics growing in relevance, and teachers began realizing that it would make sense to choose the summer reading from this list.
“Anytime I would mention it to anyone around campus, they would say ‘woah what a wonderful idea,’” Ms. Wilson said. “And then, when we started talking about using that whole idea to create our summer reading, everybody got into it.”
The AP English 11 students are also embracing this plan. It allows the topic of history to be more tangible outside of the classroom, and it helps the class, as rising seniors, contribute to the school community.
“I think a lot of the books would be more than adequate,” Jacob said. “Despite them being heavy, the information in them is very important to the modern generation.”Share