Thanksgiving in School

‘Twas Wednesday the week before Thanksgiving. An English IV student volunteered to read Gwendolyn Brooks 1959 poem…

We Real Cool

THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

(Courtesy of poets.org)

“What do you notice?” I say.

Crickets.

“What makes this a poem?”

Here they speak of the rhymes, the structure, the alliteration, the repetition of “we.”

“Who is the ‘we’?”

They speculate.

“Why do they think they’re cool?”

They provide examples from the text. 

When there’s not much more to say, we read Andrew Spacey’s article, “Analysis of Poem ‘We Real Cool’ by Gwendolyn Brooks.” Spacey takes some of our beginning ideas about the poem to the next level with sophisticated sounding words about the enjambment, ambiguity, and monosyllables along with insight on the anti-establishment and a miniature tragedy in eight-lines.

“I would love to see you all write like this,” I say. But on this day, I don’t make them write. Instead, we listen to an audio of Gwendolyn Brooks explaining her inspiration behind this poem and giving a reading. The words from her mouth and rhythms of her speech sound different than how my student had read.

Then we watch a video. Same poem another person’s thoughts. The ending goes straight to my heart. I might have seen students wiping their eyes. Students in a class later that day laughed, a contagious laugh. I’ve learned I can’t control anyone else’s reactions, only my own. 

I move on to another poet for comparison, United States poet laureate Joy Harjo. We read an NPR article: “In ‘An American Sunrise,’ Joy Harjo Speaks With A Timeless Compassion.” The article reviews Harjo’s 2019 poetry collection. Then we read along to Joy Harjo’s audio of “An American Sunrise,” a poem within the collection of the same name.

An American Sunrise

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin

was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We

were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin

chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin

will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We

had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz

I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,

forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We

know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

soon.

 

(Courtesy of poetryfoundation.org)

 

We speak of the first Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans were later robbed. The lesson is heavy, but thought-provoking, and the students quite like the two poems side-by-side. I’m posting from my phone today and unable to format this poem as intended. Otherwise, you would clearly see that each line ends with the following words consecutively: We strike straight. We sing Sin We thin gin We Jazz June, We die soon). The students minds are blown.

“Now I want you to create something as a celebration of Thanksgiving—maybe a poem, a song, or art—and give a mini presentation. This is how it works. You entertain me, and I give you a 100. I would be so happy if someone would sing me a song. You have thirty minutes. Go.”

5th period dances to “Beans, Greens, Potatoes, Tomatoes,” also known as the Grandma Thanksgiving Rap.
These images include endangered species. The text says, “To all animals and plants: Thank you for your time spent on this earth. From all humanity: our condolences and apologies for what has been brought upon this earth. May your spirits find a peaceful life after they leave this one. To all humanity: The time has passed to repair for our crimes. Now we are obligated to make the earth comfortable in these times of strife, conflict, loss, and change.
Thanksgiving, a day we spend with family

We eat and munch like an abnormality

We sit around and argue with each other

It never stops, but we love one another.

—1st Period Mariachi

30 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in School

  1. Thank you for sharing a part of your world!.. thanks to you those young people will be able to follow their dreams, their way… have a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope the day, and every day, is filled with love and happiness!.. 🙂

    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Crystal, what a fascinating poetry class! When I read Harjo’s poem, I noticed that it contained all the key words from Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool.” You blew my mind, too, when you pointed out the way that Harjo ended each line to invoke Brooks’ poem. On checking my copy of An American Sunrise, I was disappointed to note that Harjo makes no reference to “We Real Cool.” My copy ends with “We.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. I don’t have a copy of the book, but I found two different versions of Harjo’s poem (one ending with we) from two different but credible (I believe) sources — poets.org and poetryfoundation.org. Now I’m curious if Harjo made revisions post publication. It’s a mystery.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Barbara. I was super happy with the first attempt at this particular poetry pairing!

      I visited your site just now, and for some reason my note posted as anonymous, but I stumbled upon a post in reference to me. Just wow! That made my day!! ❤️

      Like

    1. I belong to a Facebook group of teachers sharing ideas, and someone posted about using Harjo’s work for Thanksgiving. I searched for it and recognized “We Real Cool.” The rest was a happy accident.

      Like

  3. Wonderful means, Crystal, of encouraging your creatives to be…well, creative. Better yet is the class’s atmosphere, which gives them a powerful incentive to express talents most of them weren’t aware they had.

    Sure, remote learning still allows for interaction, but in-person sessions add a certain spontaneity which makes the experience richer and more dynamic. Similar to a “real live” conversation’s advantage over a phone chat.

    In this season of thanks, gratitude to you for being the kind of teacher who fosters your students’ intellectual development. They learned the facts – that’s elementary school’s and junior high’s purpose – and now they’re beginning to realize it’s up to them to make use of that information. Thanks for bestowing this gift, both on your students, and on the society it’s their generation’s turn to develop.

    Like

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