National Writing Project

Possible Lives: The Promise of Education in America

Date: November 2007

Summary: In this chapter, excerpted from Mike Rose's text Possible Lives: The Promise of Education in America, Rose takes an in depth look at the classroom work of writing project teacher Stephanie Terry as she integrates the study of science and language arts in her first grade Baltimore classroom, all the while advancing the cultural knowledge and understanding of her thirty African American students.

 

In "Baltimore, Maryland," a chapter excerpted from Mike Rose's text Possible Lives: The Promise of Education in America, Rose takes an in-depth look at the classroom work of writing project teacher Stephanie Terry as she integrates the study of science and language arts in her first grade Baltimore Classroom, all the while advancing the cultural knowledge and understanding of her thirty African American students.

Rose describes how Terry's students perform experiments with frogs. And he documents how she uses African American subject matter to advance her students' skill acquisition—for example, a Venn Diagram contrasting the lives of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

Rose details the rich environment of Terry's classroom: "a table full of math games . . . three reading carrels stacked with books from Green Eggs and Ham and Curious George to fairy tales recast with black characters . . . ."

Out of all this stimulation comes student writing, which Rose studies at various stages of student progress, after a while seeing "not the particular letters and erasures, but a flow of language, words and effort over time, the development of possible lives."

Excerpt

At a time when multiculturalism and race-conscious curriculum have become such hot-button issues—and the culture war polemics around them generates more heat than light—this teacher's work represents the rich and layered possibilities of such an approach. Race is at the center of Stephanie Terry's pedagogy, in the books she selects, in the environment she creates in her interactions with students and parents. But the centrality of race does not lead to an exclusionary course of study. Ms. Terry incorporates much from a range of sources—Dr. Seuss to Venn diagrams—into her curriculum

I also include this chapter because it illustrates...a key dilemma, both a political and rhetorical one: how to represent the opportunity opened  up by good teaching (or social intervention) while simultaneously repentant the terrible threat to opportunity posed by a history of discrimination and poverty, how to insist on the possible while being clear-eyed about the devastation of inequality.

"Baltimore, Maryland" from Possible Lives by Mike Rose. Copyright (c) 1995 by Mike Rose. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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