Bridging Generations in RTE: Reading the Past, Writing the Future

By Campano, Gerald; Stornaiuolo, Amy et al. | Research in the Teaching of English, August 2018 | Go to article overview

Bridging Generations in RTE: Reading the Past, Writing the Future


Campano, Gerald, Stornaiuolo, Amy, Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth, Research in the Teaching of English


As we write this introduction to our inaugural issue of Research in the Teaching of English, youth in the United States and beyond are marching in protest of gun violence in the wake of the tragic killing of fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. From what is being labeled "The March for Our Lives," powerful images of literacy are being circulated across the media, one of the most poignant of which has been Emma González's speech in Washington, DC. In front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands, González, a Parkland survivor, drew on rhetorical and oratory traditions of dissent to memorialize and humanize her peers who had been killed by naming them individually and emphasizing the absolute finitude of their lives cut short. González then mobilized silence-an arresting and reverberating 4 minutes and 26 seconds of silence-to invite the audience into the terror of the mass shooting and appeal to the collective conscience of those who might choose life over profits.

The March for Our Lives resonates with other social movements of our turbulent and divisive social moment-most notably, Black Lives Matter, the Women's March, the #MeToo movement, the immigrant rights movement, and Standing Rock-all addressing longstanding systemic violence and oppression and new permutations of racism, xenophobia, and exploitation. These visible and collective public efforts to mobilize change and address injustice leverage many decades of work by communities and youth, particularly young people of color like March for Our Lives speaker Naomi Wadler, to call attention to pervasive gun violence and its intersections with racism, poverty, and domestic violence. They are also connected to legacies of protest and social activism that extend back through human history.

While the current climate may feel unprecedented in some ways, the images of marches and student-led movements scrolling on our TV screens and digital media devices remind us of the importance of looking back into history to see both its resonances in the present and how it might instruct us for the future. We can look, for instance, to the first issues of RTE published 50 years ago, in the late 1960s, during another momentous and turbulent time in modern history. It was a period punctuated by ongoing turmoil: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which sparked uprisings in over 100 cities; the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy; the launch of the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre, which fueled the anti-war movement at its peak; the rise of Black Power, symbolized by the Human Rights Salute at the Olympics; the grape boycott led by a coalition of Filipino and Mexican farmworkers; the Stonewall riots; and, outside of the United States, the May student and workers' strikes in France and Senegal, the Prague Spring, the state-sanctioned killings of student and civilian demonstrators in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, and the beginning of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The period also ushered in some of the most significant legislation of the Civil Rights Era, such as the Fair Housing Act, the Bilingual Education Act, and the Architectural Barriers Act, which required wheelchair accessibility in structures receiving federal money, including some schools.

Throughout these movements and events, students and educators were at the forefront, and scholarly institutions were sites of contestation, change, and controversy. Education was, and continues to be, inextricable from broader political and social contexts. For example, the 1968 student-led strikes at San Francisco State University initiated the formation of the first ethnic studies program, beginning a struggle that continues today at Tucson Unified School District and in ongoing debates throughout the country about whose histories, knowledges, and intellectual legacies will be represented in the curriculum. It was also in 1968 that the Brazilian literacy educator Paulo Freire first published Pedagogy of the Oppressed. …

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