Peace Studies: Social Justice in Literature and Life
"Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world.”
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Woolman’s English class, Peace Studies, is comprised of a rigorous, social justice-based language arts seminar and a documentary filmmaking workshop.The purpose of the seminar is to use social justice theory to provide grade 12 students with an advanced language arts study in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language for college and career preparation. To do this, we will read and analyze a wide range of literary and informational texts (for craft and structure, elements of literature, arguments supported with textual evidence, and the power and political impact of language), write confidently and competently across genres (including poetry, narratives, expository essays, and research papers), and engage in critical and transformative dialogue with an emphasis on deep listening and growth through diversity.
Our course begins with creating community and collectively determining class norms and goals. We then move into studying power, privilege, and oppression—in the contexts of education, the prison system, and restorative and transformational justice. Our trip to the Bay Area will largely focus on these areas. When we return to Woolman, we then learn how to be an ally, specifically relating to racial justice and queer and feminist movements. Next, we look at past and contemporary activists and social movements addressing injustice and analyze their range of strategies, including an investigation into if violence in response to injustice can be justified. Finally, we return to ourselves as we learn about and practice tools for cultivating and sustaining inner peace. Throughout the semester, we will be building reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening skills at the twelfth grade level, focusing on a literature study of Assata by Assata Shakur as well as choice reading and writing workshops.
The ultimate intention of Peace Studies is to facilitate students’ abilities to recreate communities of critical analysis and joy, empathy and empowerment in the world beyond our classroom—bringing about a more just and peaceful society. For as bell hooks concludes in Teaching to Transgress:
The classroom remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.
The ongoing semester project for Peace Studies is the Peace Documentary: a ten-minute film created, filmed, and produced by students who collaborate in small groups. In documentary class, students develop documentaries from the first stage of brainstorming ideas through presenting their final pieces to the public, while developing skills with interviewing, camera and audio work, and editing. Documentary class emphasizes the relationship between art and activism and provides students with powerful skills for creating social change.
Here are some of the Fall 2013 Peace Studies Documentaries: