As a special education teacher, I can attest to the fact that sometimes “easy as ABC, 123” is in the eye of the beholder. While alphabet books might traditionally be pictured in primary classrooms, they are becoming more and more common in the libraries of young adults and adults. Activist ABCs or the ABCs of radical women come to mind. The alphabet is one way to organize rather complex subject matter in a way that most of us can understand.
Wendy Ewald, a photographer and teacher, was asked by an arts and culture program in Philadelphia to create a public installation with the help of high school students. Her work with 18 recent immigrants to the United States became America Border Culture Dreamer: The Young Immigrant Experience from A to Z. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned an English word that relates to the immigrant experience which is then translated into the student’s native language, followed by a student created definition, and a sentence reflecting the word’s meaning. Eighteen letters are followed by a student’s individual story of the process of immigrating to the United States or what it has been like to live in a new country.
Each letter is also accompanied by an image. The backgrounds of the images are photographs which the students then wrote over to provide an even clearer definition of the words chosen. The words that the students chose are simple (border, education, jewelry, memory, occupy, etc.) but their individual representations, visually and in writing, of what these words mean transforms this into much more than an alphabet book. It is an avenue for young people to speak their truths.
There are many possibilities for how to use this book in a middle school or high school classroom. Analyzing how the students’ individual perspectives of a seemingly similar experience differ from one another provides greater depth to our understanding of immigration. Students could also use this as a model text for creating their own alphabet book on a subject that is important to them. As with so many books on this topic, America Border Culture Dreamer is another glimpse into an experience that we all have some connection to, but do not always choose to understand.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.
Justice 11: I relate to all people as individuals rather than representatives of groups and can identify stereotypes when I see or hear them.
RI.2- Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.4- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.
RI.5- Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
RI.6- Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
RI.7- Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.