Oregon Humanities Curriculum Guides

Oregon Humanities has developed a series of curriculum guides based on stories from our magazine. Our guides contain essential questions, standards, scoring guides, scaffolded lesson plans, printouts, and many other resources. These guides were made possible thanks to the support of Juan Young Trust and the Emily Georges Gottfried Fund of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation.

Becoming Asian: The Act of Inventing Race

It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is no apolitical classroom. But how can teachers begin to address complex American racial realities in effective and engaging ways? Professors Justin Gomer and Christopher Petrella suggest that because “one cannot begin to comprehend the relationship between race and racism without historical investigation,” educators should employ “a historically-grounded anti-racist pedagogy…[that] allows us to see US society ‘in the act of inventing race.’”

Scot Nakagawa’s personal experiences with “the invention of race” and model minority myths in his essay “Becoming Asian” will help students and teachers untangle the knotty history of race and racism in the United States while locating themselves within our current political landscape.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Becoming Asian” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of identity, immigration, race, and power.

See full curriculum guide here

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Full Circle: The High Price of Free Speech

Seventy-five percent of high school students say they take the First Amendment for granted or they do not think about it at all. Three out of four students also believe that flag burning is illegal and almost fifty percent believe that obscene online material is restricted by the government. This gulf between misconception and reality presents a valuable opportunity for educators to improve students’ working knowledge of their civil rights, a knowledge which forms the foundation of a politically engaged citizenry. One way to develop appreciation for overlooked freedom of expression is to confront its absence in other societies, along with the fatal consequences often faced by those who dare speak out against injustice. Putsata Reang examines contrasting rights and freedoms across cultures through her personal journey as a refugee and journalist and in the stories of Southeast Asian journalists featured in her essay “Full Circle.”

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Full Circle” and the short film “A Return Passage” and use them as entry points for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of civil rights, media and journalism, power, justice, and refugees.

See full curriculum guide here

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Good Hair: Exploring Identity and Questioning Expectations

The halls of every high school house a daily parade of hair and clothing styles that can change and shift at a dizzying pace. What might be an ostensibly superficial spectacle to onlookers actually signals a momentous process of self-exploration and identity experimentation. As educator Chuck Glaeser notes, “Adolescents are in a constant state of flux, where they are attempting to define who they are and who they will become. They also have to learn to filter and synthesize the various messages about identity from a multitude of sources: parents, teachers, coaches, community and religious leaders, the media, and peers, which yield questions such as: Who am I? Am I okay, or should I change? Who should I be? How do I become what people want me to be?”  High school students’ fashion choices are simultaneously public and personal manifestations of their inner struggle with these questions.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Good Hair,” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of identity, family, gender, race, and appearance.

See full curriculum guide here

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Hidden Histories: The Farmers of Tanner Creek

Too often, students view history as a static entity, the result of inexorable, autonomous forces coming to rest at foregone conclusions. But as Portland educator Linda Christensen writes, social justice education demands that we help students understand that “history is not inevitable…there are spaces where it can bend, change, and become more just.”* When students apply a social justice lens to history, they discover the organic nature of change. This leads students to thoughtfully interpret and challenge history-making events happening all around them.

In these lessons, students will delve into a “hidden history” of Portland through the essay “The Farmers of Tanner Creek,” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of immigration, displacement, gentrification, race, and the American Dream.

*Christensen, Linda. Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-Imagining the Language Arts Classroom. Rethinking Schools, Ltd., 2009.

See full curriculum guide here

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Making Men: Unpacking Sex, Violence, and Power

The harsh reality is that most high school students encounter sex and violence, separately or together, in some form every day. The majority of students already have an intense familiarity with the realities of sexual violence, whether through oft-cited statistics, media representations, or personal experiences. And despite adults’ concern over this state of affairs, communication between adults and adolescents around these topics is at best strained, and more often entirely absent.

Teachers who choose to courageously step into this communication void become powerful allies to their students, as they help them unpack the potent cultural myths and paradigms that both shape students’ burgeoning sexual identities and perpetuate cycles of violence. When students study the relationship between sex and violence critically, they become empowered and transformed as they recognize that:

The cycle of violence begins with myths or misinformation, stereotypes or a biased history. . . . The cycle continues as myths are validated and reinforced by institutions, culture, media, family, religion, and friends and then become socialized into the cycle. [When students see] that once myths are socialized, and if not adequately deconstructed, the cycle can be internalized, causing misinformation and myths to later become truths . . . the internalization of the myths may lead to behavior that is prejudiced, oppressive, and even violent, thus completing the cycle. (Stacy Miller)

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Making Men” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of sexuality, violence, family, gender, power, culture, and values.

Note: This essay addresses mature themes and uses mature language with regard to sexuality and violence. In particular, paragraph 30 contains an explicit reference to a sexual act. Two PDFs of this essay are included—one containing the original text in its entirety, and an edited one omitting the text of paragraph 30.

See full curriculum guide here

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Making Peace with Chaos: The Realities of Refugee Experiences

There are 65.3 million refugees on earth today, even more than there were after World War II [source] While it is important for students to be aware of this staggering number and understand the conditions that created it, it is just as crucial that they comprehend the refugee experience on an individual level. Teachers can facilitate this process by using personal stories that humanize the statistics.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Making Peace with Chaos,” which contrasts stereotypes about refugees to the realities of refugees’ lives in Portland. Students will use the essay as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of refugees, displacement, immigration, belonging, and the American Dream.

See full curriculum guide here

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Restoring a Common Language: The Original Laws

Colonialism is a story still unfolding, shaping how every American lives today. Educators have a responsibility to engage students with the concept of colonialism as more than just a phenomenon confined to the pages of history textbooks. As professor Christie Toth notes,

Settler colonialism characteriz[es] settlement as a past event rather than a persistent structure . . . [that] ignor[es] or den[ies] continued Native presence, and obscur[es] the reality that both settlement and Indigenous resistance are ongoing. This means that failing to recognize the settler colonial situation—even in otherwise critical conversations about race, gender, sexuality, class, and other forms of structural oppression in the United States—is inadvertently participating in the very elisions, evasions, and selective remembering that perpetuate settler colonialism in the twenty-first century.

Teachers and students are called to “recognize the settler colonial situation” and bring this awareness into our understanding of current realities and consequences of the colonial story evolving around each of us and affecting each of us, including Indigenous land rights, resource management, and cultural empowerment.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “The Original Laws” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of environment, ethics, natural resources, culture, and values.

See full curriculum guide here

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The Air I Breathe: Belonging, Gentrification, Race, and Power

Most adolescent students are living in the midst of community change, whether in the form of urban gentrification or rural development, and they sense how these changes are tied to race, place, power, and belonging.

Yet they don’t always know how or where to talk about what they, their families, and their communities are experiencing. As one high school student puts it: “We see [urban change and gentrification] happening right here. Nobody’s doing anything about it. We’re not talking about gentrification in school, as if it doesn’t affect us. As if we can ignore it ’til school’s out." (Kinloch, Valerie. “Literacy, Community, and Youth Acts of Place-Making.” English Education, vol. 41, no. 4, July 2009, pp. 316-336.) Students need a space in which to explore the complex intersection of race, place, power, and belonging that touches each of their lives in different ways.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “The Air I Breathe” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of belonging, gentrification, displacement, power, race, and place.

See full curriculum guide here

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Uncovered: Exploring Immigrant and Identity Stories

Oregon students represent an ever-increasingly diverse array of ethnic, socioeconomic, linguistic, sexual, gender, and immigrant identities; thus, it is crucial that classrooms include alternatives to dominant narratives. U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera notes the urgency of reading and telling historically marginalized stories, which are “small piece[s] of a great migration,” and ultimately, “very big stories, everybody’s stories.” This exploration, including students’ exploration and sharing of their own stories, is a “small way that those in the room can begin to hear each other, to see each other, to become visible in a culture full of stories and images that leave so many out.”

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Uncovered,” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of social identity, immigration, health, family, equity, and civil rights.

See full curriculum guide here

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What They Carried: Discovering Refugee Experiences Through Objects

Intolerance is a catalyst for the violence, persecution, and displacement that over 65 million refugees on earth currently face. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) asserts that “through examination of instances of intolerance, students can deepen their understanding of issues relating to human rights while discovering their personal beliefs.  Exposing  the  conditions, causes,  and  consequences  of  human  intolerance is one  way  to  reduce  fear—a  common  impetus for  intolerance."* The close examination of individual refugee experiences is one of the most effective ways of achieving critical awareness of the personal consequences of human intolerance, and is a necessary step in the journey to empathy, compassion, and ultimately, change—both in classrooms and the wider world.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “What They Carried,” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of immigration, belonging, family, and refugees.

*Moss, Barbara (ed.). “Teaching Tolerance: Resources for Students and Teachers.” Voices from the Middle, vol. 20, no. 3, March 2013, pp. 52-56. National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/VM/0203-mar2013/VM0203Young.pdf

See full curriculum guide here

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Within Makeshift Walls: Injustice Hidden in Plain Sight

Social justice education is a tool of empowerment and critical thinking that our diverse student populations crave and deserve. As Portland educator Linda Christensen writes, “social justice education is actually the critique of society. It’s a critique of the normalization of privilege and power held in the hands of few, at the expense of many… [It] really examines society to help students understand how things came to be. That, yes, we live in a democracy, but that the democracy was not set up to serve everyone in it. Part of students’ understanding racism, classism, [and] sexism is understanding how our society has been set up to perpetuate those hierarchies.” 

In these lessons, students will delve into a “hidden history” of Oregon through the essay “Within Makeshift Walls,” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of laws and legislation, place, power, race, public policy, civil rights, immigration, and displacement.

See full curriculum guide here

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Your Cultural Attire: Culture, Identity, and Appreciation/Appropriation

Adolescence has long been defined by the search for answers to the question, “Who am I?” 

Because identity is synonymous with culture, it is also a time of cultural exploration in which teenagers may choose to embrace or reject inherited cultures (such as religion) or adopted cultures (such as musical genres). The era of globalization both enriches and complicates the relationships within and between cultures, as it grants us opportunities to experiment with and mix cultures in unprecedented ways.

Students thirst for guidance and discourse as they navigate the fraught territory of cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation, and classrooms can become valuable places in this process. Educators Danielle Lillge and Diana Dominguez advocate the importance of “opening our classrooms to . . . wonderfully rich, complicated, and uncertain spaces,” and embracing “analysis of how a complex web of social issues and identity markers necessarily shape students’ lives.”

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “Your Cultural Attire” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of belonging, culture, identity, and power.

See full curriculum guide here

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