Academic journal article English Journal

Sports Stories and Critical Media Literacy

Academic journal article English Journal

Sports Stories and Critical Media Literacy

Article excerpt

enior year. Second semester. En- glish class. For many students, this is the last place they want to be. But when you look around this classroom, you see students huddled together, poring over primary-source documents, looking for evidence to support their group's thesis. Oth- ers are listening to a Bob Dylan song, taking rapid notes every few minutes on the accompanying lyr- ics page. Still others are searching the Internet for corroborative information. The buzz of activity in this classroom would please any English teacher, but for this group of students, success in school does not come easily, and their struggles in En- glish over the years have distanced most of them from the subject, making their engagement that much more gratifying. Fortunately, their interest in sports is a powerful motivator, leading to our development of this Sports Stories class, a course that uses sports as its centerpiece to help inspire students as they strengthen their reading and writing skills.

Within the framework of our curriculum, seniors choose two one-semester English classes, based primarily on their interests. The courses vary widely in content, including such topics as creative writing, theater arts, fantasy literature, journalism, film, college writing, and sports. The courses are leveled-Advanced Placement, Honors, College Prep, and General-and the students who enroll in Sports Stories tend to be those who struggle most with English. The Sports Stories course itself, a General-l evel class, helps students explore some of the dominant themes consistently seen in the stories-real and fictional-surrounding sports: determination, the underdog, the hero, the fall of a legend. Sports provide the backdrop, themes pro- vide the focus, and historical figures provide the human element.

As we developed the course, we felt that a simple exploration of the major themes present in sports, while interesting, would be insufficiently rigorous and that students would benefit from a more critical examination of fictional representa- tions of historical events. We also realized that we could take further advantage of the students' inter- est in the subject by teaching them to read and ana- lyze the rhetorically rich texts of sports writers such as Frank DeFord, Norman Mailer, and John Fein- stein; analyze iconic sports films such as Rocky, The Natural, Hoosiers, and Field of Dreams; investigate sports controversies such as the "Black Sox" scandal of 1916; and explore documentaries and biographi- cal accounts of sports legends. The talk is sports, but the language used and the standards addressed are typical of any English class.

This article outlines two approaches that can be used in a sports-oriented English classroom to help students develop critical-thinking skills within a context that is both familiar and engag- ing. These two core elements of the course-one literary and one rhetorical-provide the framework for the study of sports figures and events. Both of these units connect directly to reading, writing, lis- tening, and speaking strands in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The "Hurricane" Carter Controversy

The Sports Stories curriculum addresses criti- cal media literacy primarily through an inquiry into the murder conviction of boxer Rubin "Hur- ricane" Carter who, despite evidence to the con- trary, continually proclaimed his innocence. The circumstances are dramatized in the 1999 film The Hurricane, directed by Norman Jewison, which draws its material primarily from Carter's account of his early life and from a book by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton that depicts the authors' efforts to free Carter from prison.

The students described at the beginning of this article engaged in a critical multimedia study to determine the historical accuracy of several rep- resentations of the primary event-a 1966 triple homicide allegedly involving Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a mid-20th-century boxer with a promis- ing career whose public life was spotted with vio- lence, drugs, and multiple arrests. …

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