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Professor teaches social justice issues with help from poem

December 04, 2015

In a recent article for the journal Rethinking Schools, Linda Christensen—director of the Oregon Writing Project, editor, and author—explains how teachers can use Myrlin Hepworth’s poem “Ritchie Valens” to engage students with social justice issues.

“Poems like ‘Ritchie Valens’ help students see that poetry isn’t just about flowers and rainbows and unrequited love,” Christensen wrote. “It’s also about history, language, race, and resistance.”

Hepworth’s poem, Christensen writes, is a “Swiss army knife kind of poem.” Teachers can use Hepworth’s language to examine poetic devices, offer a model for biographic poems, and examine racial and language discrimination in the United States.

The poem can also be used with a range of students. When Christensen taught high school juniors, her class studied the politics of language discrimination and wrote biographic poems about literary and historical characters who had lost their native tongues. Her sophomore classes told the stories of people they knew who had been affected by gentrification. Seniors praised friends and family members.

Christensen currently coordinates the Oregon Writing Project—a collaboration between Lewis & Clark and metropolitan or rural area schools and districts—which offers programs designed to improve the writing of Oregon’s K-12 students and teachers. Christensen’s awards include the Fred Heschinger Award for use of research in teaching and writing from the National Writing Project and the Humanitarian Award from Willamette Writers.

Caleb Diehl ’16 contributed to this story.

Oregon Writing Project

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