Holly Spinelli: Bringing it Back

May 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Bringing it Back, Issue, Spring 2014
HollyPicby Holly Spinelli
English Teacher, City-As-School High School, New York, NY
BLSE 2010, 2012, 2013

My Bread Loaf experience this past summer transformed my teaching. At the request of my principal, I became an adjunct lecturer in the College Now program, a partnership at our school with C.U.N.Y. LaGuardia Community College. The program offers the students the opportunity to earn three college credits freed of cost while completing their high school requirements. I taught a critical thinking course in the fall and a public speaking course in the spring.

The larger ideas in the required text for the critical thinking course lent themselves quite nicely to the texts and information I obtained in Professor Damián Baca’s Mexican-American Literature course. Students were excited by the materials. These included excerpts from Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands: La Frontera, The New Mestiza, and House Bill 2281.

My students and I engaged in discussions, debates, and analysis. We made connections to global and personal experiences and produced written assignments. My students applied critical thinking skills and searched for meaningful connections through deep analysis of each of the texts. One of their favorite pieces to critically analyze was House Bill 2281, the legislative piece banning Latino/a studies in Tucson, Arizona, public schools. My students, many of whom are of Lartino/a, expressed outrage over the “institutional racism” and “sad and twisted application of the law.”

In her midterm, Katherine wrote on the topic of Race in Education. Following is an excerpt from her paper:

Other educational quandaries we’ve studied include House Bill 2281, which makes Latin American studies in Tucson, Arizona public schools illegal, on the basis that Latin American studies practice and preach anti-American sentiment. While I’m supposed to think critically on all topics, I can’t help but express how utterly ridiculous I think that is. Allow me to explain- to suppress the rights of a particular cultural study on the pretense of it containing offensive material, and it being passed and offending a majority of people, is just ludicrous. It’s a futile attempt to cloak America’s arguably contentious past with Latin America, among other countries. Instead of trying to disguise our history and discrediting others, we should be embracing the wrong doings of our past, recognizing them as wrong, moving on, and continuing to progress as a country….It is ridiculous to pass a bill stating it’s protecting a culture, by diminishing another. It makes no sense.

Katherine’s sentiments are powerful, motivating, innovating, and exciting. The critical thinking course created quite a buzz among both students and faculty. Twelve of the eighteen students enrolled in the course passed with a B+ or higher, and all received three college credits.

The success of my critical thinking course is connected to my utilizing the materials from Professor Baca’s class. That course, and others like it, allow Bread Loaf students to enrich themselves and their own classrooms with often overlooked and underrepresented literature and voices in education.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.