Critical pedagogy teaches students to respond to texts not just as literary critics, but as politically aware members of a community. In order to create this kind of classroom, teachers must begin by encouraging students to read and think critically. Once students develop a means of creative political expression, they can begin to consider how they want their thoughts and words to affect others. As students work to guide their own studies, to critique the political ideologies at work in their communities, and to develop creative dialogues with others, they become active participants in the classroom and the larger world.
- board and/or chart paper
- newspapers or collections of newspaper articles (which the teacher may provide or ask students to provide)
- copies of Parable of the Sower
1. Begins the lesson with a discussion about Chapter 11 of Parable of the Sower with the whole class. Some appropriate questions might include:
- What are some of Lauren's concerns?
- What is the nature of the community environment? Why is it so dangerous?
- What is the cause of these problems?
2. Students read a passage from Chapter 11 in Parable of the Sower. Lead a discussion about the treatment of religion in the text, and encourage students to write down key points that come up in discussion. The discussion focuses on students' concerns, but make sure that students consider:
- Lauren's need to change God's name and to create her own concept of God
- Her new concept of God
- Her age/maturity and her commitment to shaping her own destiny
- The positive changes Lauren is trying to make in the community
3. The students divide into six groups that focus on a single assigned news area: social news, political news, economic news, environmental news, spiritual news and, science/technological news. Explains that students eventually will pool information from all the groups. Each class group receives a chart and writes their group's name (e.g., "Environmental News") on the top.
4. Each group compiles recent newspaper articles that describe current events in their news area. Students list news items on their charts, along with any ideas they may have about the trends they're tracking. Some of the questions to ask the class to consider include:
- Are all the stories about your news area in one section of the newspaper? Are there tangential issues that you also need to track?
- Can you describe any trends that are emerging?
- How might these trends lead to the situation described in Parable of the Sower?
5. The groups share their findings with the class.
6. Students write a report using evidence from newspaper articles to demonstrate how contemporary American society might become like the society in Parable of the Sower. They consider some of the following questions:
- What do you think should happen right now, or within the next 20 years, to change the course of history so we don't end up with problems like those in the book?
- To whom should we write?
- What should we say to that person?
7. Asks students to take action for positive change by writing a letter to a politician based on the predictions they have made.
8. After students have begun to draft their letters, asks them to share portions with the class. Students finish these letters as a homework assignment.
Octavia Butler’s work exists at the nexus of race, gender, class, and sexuality, and reimagines contemporary problems in futuristic and sometimes extraterrestrial spaces. The Parable of the Sower focuses largely on issues of socioeconomic disparity and concerns of corporatization and corruption. PotS imagines its fifteen-year-old African American heroine and narrator as a futuristic (2020!) organizer, leading a cultural exodus and founding a new society to escape socioeconomic and political collapse. Octavia Butler is the bomb (technical term), and The Parable of the Sower presents a near perfect vehicle for opening critical conversations about feminism, multiculturalism, religion, race, sexuality, status, and activism.
In the novel, Lauren is in the active process of renegotiating spaces and leading a cultural revolution, or at the very least a cultural reimagining. She actively engages in the very kind of repositioning and renegotiating that critical approaches ask students to engage in. She is an active and aware agent of transformation. Just as Lauren does throughout the text, The Parable of the Sower functions as an ideal primer to help students understand and challenge discourses of power.
This lesson plan addresses grades 11-12 Reading Standards for Literature and Writing Standards such as those asking students to "Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text," "draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research," and "determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text." (Also, the expansion ideas [#7 and 8] would cause students to "Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question... or solve a problem [and]...synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.")
Beyond the standards though, this lesson also lets us offer students the opportunity to engage in political action and reflect on historical and contemporary parallels that highlight inequality and economic disparity. PotS, Octavia Butler, and this lesson encourage students to eschew political and cultural complacency and acceptance of unfair conditions and systems of power. And again, Octavia Butler is the bomb.