English 6780 Topics in English Education, Spring 2024

Teaching the Literature 

of Social Movements 

Literature plays diverse, important, and complex roles in social movements. It can critique the status quo, develop awareness, imagine alternatives, formulate demands, organize and inspire action, and establish new ways of life. Literature can work in the public sphere or expand it, and address cultural hegemony. It can amplify marginalized voices, challenge societal norms, and provide a platform for expressing diverse experiences and ideas. Through storytelling, literature has the potential to ignite empathy, provoke critical thinking, and catalyze collective action.

In this graduate seminar the word "literature" encompasses traditional literary works, novels, poetry, autobiography, biography, as well as documents, manifestos, music, posters, film, video, social media, etc. Gerbaudo writes about protests and public actions as the 'choreography of assembly' and describes the use of public space as "a symbolic construction" including emotional 'scene-setting' and 'scripting' of participants' physical actions ("Tweets and the Streets," 2012). Thus, even the physical actions of public protest can also be read as "text" or literature.

The literature of social movemensts takes place within the ecology of everyday life information seeking, inequalities of power, intentional disinformation, and draws on specific communications technologies from the pamphlet to mass and social medias.

In addition to understanding the literature of social movements, this course is interested in how we teach such literature, how we effectively and ethicaly engage in inquiry, justice, action and citizenship education and how we might make the English courses we teach relevant to and involved in social struggles. This seminar raises questions about the traditional construction of school knowledge and ideas about why and how we teach literature.

Seminar participants will participate in deciding which four social movements we will focus on ranging from the abolition of slavery to climate change. Topics could include labor and socialism, chartism, womens' suffrage, Belgian Congo, civil rights, peace, American Indian Movement, Chicano Movement, anti-nuclear, LGBTQ, environmentalism, Me-Too, Occupy, Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, etc. (At least one movement we address will have taken place before 1900.) Students will help select reading and writing assignments and activities, direct discussion, and develop teaching materials and ideas that will be shared publically for the benefit of teachers beyond the seminar.

Students will engage in various modes of writing, creative, analytical, and pedagogical, and we will experiment with using generative artificial intelligence (ie. ChatGPT).

The seminar draws on thematic instruction, problem posing teaching, cultural studies, inquiry and critical theory, student choice and self-evaluation, service learning and active citizenship education.

The seminar welcomes and will be relevant to graduate students in English in literature, creative writing, writing studies, and English education.

As the semester unfolds social movements we are discussing will certainly be in the news. Students in this class are expected to read from a variety of news sources and are invited to bring issues to our class for discussion. WMU provides a free NYT subscription. The Guardian is an excellent news source, and can also be accessed for free.

Seminar Success

Since the seminar is discussion-based, your attendance and preparation are essential to your learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing more than two weeks of the seminar will lower your grade and missing 3 or more may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning -- and consider your own philosophy!

Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below. At the hour scheduled for the final exam students will present their final projects.

This course follows WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being.

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.

WMU Land Acknowledgement: "Land acknowledgment is a process by which individuals are prompted to consider the history of the space they currently inhabit. We would like to recognize that Western Michigan University is located on lands historically occupied by the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodewadmi nations. Please take a moment to acknowledge and honor this ancestral land of the Three Fires Confederacy, the sacred lands of all Indigenous peoples and their continued presence."

Reading / Viewing


Engler, Mark & Paul, This is an Uprising: How Non-Violent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century (2017).

Malm, Andreas, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire (2021).

Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968)

from The Public Sphere (1962), by Jurgen Habermas

from Social Movements and New Technology (2021), by Victoria Carty

Additional texts to be determined by student leaders.

Major Assignments

1) Seminar Participation (33%)

2) Leading Two Week Study of a Social Movement(33%)

3) Final Project(33%)

Electronic Syllabus

Jan 8: Introductions

Introductions, Formation of Leadership Groups, view and discuss "No Easy Walk"

Jan 22: Social Movement Theory

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2. Join our class phone message system, Remind. If you have a smartphone go to this page in your web browser and follow instructions: rmd.at/@fbkfdb. If you don't have a smart phone text "@fbkfdb" to this number "81010". If you don't have a cell phone go to rmd.at/fbkfdb and sign up for email notification.

3. Read: Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. (1963). (Minister's Appeal for Law and Order King was responding to.) Write a list of reasons why this document is effective social movement literature.

4. Look at 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp. Which of these have a literature dimension? 

5. Read: This is an Uprising. Write a list of what you learn about social movements from this book.

Sept 29: Social Movement Theory II

1. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau (1849) Write a list of reasons why this document is and is not, effective social movement literature.

2. Look at Wikipedia on the Public Sphere then read from The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: "Social Structures of the Public Sphere" (27-43) and "Political Function of the Public Sphere" (57-67), Jurgen Habermas (1962).

3. "Information Communities," Jason Weekley (2018). 

4. "The Framing Process," in Social Movements: The Structure of Collective Mobilization by Paul Almeida, (2019).

5. "Are Frames Enough?" by Charlotte Ryan and William Gamson, in The Social Movements Reader (2006).

6. "How Social Movement Matter," by David Meyer, in The Social Movements Reader (2003).

7. From Social Movements and New Technology by Victoria Carty (2015).

Feb 5: The Question of Violence

1. Read: Review of Our Final Warning by Bill Mckibben (also in Word).

2. Read: How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire, by Andeas Malm.

3. View: How to Blow Up a Pipeline movie, directed by Daniel Goldhaber.  

Feb 12: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Read: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Feb 19: What is the We Need Diverse Books Movement? (Morgan & Jessica)  

1. Read: "We Need Diverse Books: A Summary of the Movement"

2. Listen: WNDB Panel

3. Explore: WNDB website

4. Read: "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors" Rudine Simms Bishop

5. Read: ""We Need Diverse Books': Diversity, Activism, and Children's Literature" Sarah Park Dahlen

Feb 26: Teaching the We Need Diverse Books Movement

1. Read: Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance Anthology

2. Read: How to Move Beyond the Common Core and Connect Historical Excellence to Your Classroom

3. Explore: choose a couple of articles from the list below:


How parents and educators can use children's books as a 'magnifying glass' for injustice (prismreports.org)

Social Justice Classroom Activities That Use Books to Inspire Students (weareteachers.com)

Using Diverse Books with ELLs: A Guide for Educators, Colorin Colorado (colorincolorado.org)

Using Diverse Books to Support Writing Instruction | Colorin Colorado (colorincolorado.org)

Diverse Books Toolkit | TeachingBooks

Educator Resources - Teaching for Change

Mar 4-8: Spring Break

Mar 11: Group 2

Mar 18: Group 2

Mar 25: Group 3

Apr 1: Group 3

Apr 8: Group 4

Apr 15: Group 4

Apr 22-26 Final Exam Week

Apr 22 7:15-9:15: Final Exam

Presentation of Final Project