Teacher Q&A: Deanne Moore, Hingham High School
Deanne Moore, who teaches English at Hingham High School, has used the resources and knowledge she gained at Primary Source to transform Hingham's 10th grade English class into a course on world literature
"In an English classroom, students can use literature and film as a means of penetrating international boundaries, challenging their own beliefs, complicating their thinking, and reaching a richer understanding of the world that they live in."
PS: How has your teaching changed as a result of the recent Primary Source courses you've taken on the Middle East?
Deanne: The Middle East summer institute and book group, along with every other course that I've taken with Primary Source, have dramatically impacted my teaching, the 10th grade curriculum, and the community-wide summer reading program. Because I grew up during the Cold War, the only international focus in my history and English classes was dedicated to the rise of Western civilization and the countries that founded the United States. We did not learn anything about the civilizations of China and India, and we learned very little about Africa. Likewise, all Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries were largely excluded from materials we were exposed to in the classroom.
When I began my career as an English teacher, I assumed that my role would be the same as my high school English teachers' - I thought I would only address British and American classics in my classroom. Attending Primary Source courses, collaborating with my colleagues at Hingham High School, and having the freedom and trust of my administration helped us to transition our 10th grade British Literature course into a 10th grade World Literature course. Without the exposure to new ideas, historical context, geographic realities, literary traditions, and cultural norms from other regions of the world that my colleagues and I received through Primary Source, we would not have been properly prepared to make this transition.
Prior to Primary Source's 2007 summer institute on the Middle East, I had never studied the region in any depth and did not consider it when we redeveloped the 10th grade curriculum at Hingham High School. My colleagues and I chose the Iranian graphic novel Persepolis as this summer's community-wide reading selection and plan on permanently integrating it into the 10th grade curriculum moving forward. We're using this as an opportunity to examine other Middle Eastern texts and films and consider how we can expand these efforts. I plan on using the resources that Primary Source connected me to in order to continue to bring the world into the classrooms at Hingham High School.
PS: Prior to your participation in these courses, what was the biggest impediment for you in teaching about the Middle East?
Deanne: The most debilitating impediment was a lack of knowledge. As an English major in college with a focus on Western Art History, I had zero exposure to anything from the Middle East. Since college, I spent some time traveling in Turkey and volunteering in a Muslim village in Bosnia. These two experiences sparked an interest in the Middle East, and taking the course at Primary Source lit the fire. I'm now avidly seeking to expand my body of knowledge about this region through films, literature, and travel. Primary Source provided me with the knowledge, tools, and contacts to fully explore the Middle East on an intellectual level and feel comfortable and informed enough to develop thoughtful units for my courses.
PS: What do you think your students have gained through the study of Middle Eastern literature?
Deanne: I borrowed heavily from the Primary Source Middle East summer institute and followed much of the same format - first by acknowledging and identifying stereotypes, providing information that breaks down the stereotypes, and then learning about the Middle East with an open mind. When I reviewed the journal entries that the students wrote at the beginning and the end of the unit, I found a profound shift in perspective - students had developed respect for Middle Easterners, appreciated that they had different views, understood that stereotypes surrounding the Muslim population were damaging and incorrect.
I was also able to bring in a graduate of Hingham High School who was a senior at Boston College and who studied the Middle East and lived in Egypt for a semester. Her fascinating stories and interesting revelations helped my students more fully understand just how false so many of the stereotypes are about Muslims and the Middle East. For one hour, the students asked her questions and, had time allowed, I'm convinced the students had enough questions to continue the discussion for several more hours. This culminating activity and the questions and answers that it generated proved to me that the unit had created a curiosity among my students to learn more about the Middle East, helped them to break down stereotypes, and enriched their understanding of this culturally rich region.
PS: Why is it important for students to be exposed to international perspectives in an English classroom?
Deanne: It is absolutely critical for students to be exposed to international perspectives in an English classroom because students need to learn to see their world from different viewpoints. Growing up in a narrowly focused atmosphere wrongly encourages students to snap shut the door to dialogue and, as a result, eliminate the opportunity for mutual respect and understanding. In an English classroom, students can use literature and film as a means of penetrating international boundaries, challenging their own beliefs, complicating their thinking, and reaching a richer understanding of the world that they live in.
PS: What are your hopes for the 2008-2009 school year?
Deanne: I'm eagerly anticipating the beginning of the next school year, primarily because the entire school community will begin the year by discussing the summer reading book, Persepolis. I'm looking forward to the discussions that this book will generate throughout the school - not only in English classes, but also in others like history, art, and French. The cultural programs that we are planning for this book will make Iranian culture come alive for the community.