MEAC Final Reflection

December, 2020

About Me

My name is Kelsey Agar, and I teach world literature at Mooresville High School. I have long been interested in literature from the Middle East and Africa. Unfortunately, the only exposure that many of my students have to these parts of the world are terrifying news headlines, blanket assumptions of poverty and low quality of life, and fear of terrorism and violence. The turmoil portrayed in the news often overshadows the intricacy of these cultures, which I know from my own experiences working with teachers in Tanzania. My students come to me with little understanding of these regions of the world, and the knowledge they do possess is far from complete.

When I applied to participate in the MEAC Fellowship program back in January, I had no idea how priceless of an experience this would be. I had a vision in my mind that I would be visiting mosques, listening to refugees, and experiencing the regional foods throughout the Middle East and Africa. What I didn’t envision was that I would still be able to experience this virtually in the midst of a global pandemic -- and that it would still be so meaningful to both my experience as an educator as well as my students’ experience in the classroom.

The MEAC program has provided me and my students with access to a fuller historical context to help us grasp the level of complexity behind the headlines we often read. Stories taking place in the Middle East dominate our current global news. In this environment, it is extremely important to me that my students can have an intelligent, well-informed conversation about what is going on in this part of the world. Being a participant in the MEAC program has allowed me to grow in my personal knowledge of these areas, and I am thrilled to be able to apply this knowledge to my own content area and help my students expand their perceptions of the Middle East and Africa.

It's all about perspective...

The Danger of Single Story

Over the last six years, I have taught various texts that take place in the Middle East and Africa including Real Time, My Forbidden Face, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Things Fall Apart, A Long Way Gone, and The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. Through these texts, my students and I have attempted to unpack some of the diversity, history, and culture that exists in these regions. However, one of the struggles I have faced while teaching these novels is that I can’t teach all of them at once. Each novel tells one story, and each story is only one person’s version of their reality. One resource that I intend to incorporate into my classes is Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” As an introductory element to a unit, it is of high interest, and it is an incredible resource that allows students to recognize their commonalities with people who are from different parts of the world.

The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Supplemental Reading Material

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been challenging to get through large quantities of literature, so one resource I found to be particularly helpful was the International Children’s Library. This resource contains a large quantity of translated stories from other countries. Though I teach high school, and many of these stories were written for a much younger audience, my hope is that when I teach this unit next semester, I will be able to use some of these stories in order to supplement our novels with stories that offer additional perspectives.

I also do an outside reading project with my students every year where they are required to select a book that is written by someone who is not from the United States. The Middle East Outreach Council selects books written for children and young adults that help young people gain a fuller understanding of the Middle East. I would be interested in adding some of these books to my classroom library so that students are able to select them for our outside reading project. I am also interested in using some of the children's books as shorter texts that help students understand and analyze culture in an even simpler way.

Research Ideas

One of the things I value most as a teacher is being able to give my students hands-on, relevant experiences that help bring a sense of familiarity to things that are often considered foreign. Early on in our program, we heard Dr. Brian Gibbs from the UNC School of Education speak on culturally relevant pedagogy. He shared some amazing ideas about how to bring the world inside of one’s classroom through images, articles, as well as other visual representations of different cultures. Making sure that students are physically surrounded by different cultures allows them to learn in a tangible way. I also enjoyed his thoughts and ideas regarding research. I would like to do a project with my students where they are able to apply what we’ve learned about other cultures and conduct their research on social injustices within our own community. I look forward to reaching out to Dr. Gibbs and hopefully bringing this project to life in the future.

Sharing Tea

Lastly, the image that will forever last in my mind is from our last virtual site visit. I absolutely loved watching as our final presenter showed us how to make Moroccan Mint Tea. It was the perfect ending to our journey together, and truly encapsulated what I had hoped to gain from this experience. Our fellows, leaders, and presenters, all from vastly different places with vastly different life experiences, were all able to share an afternoon tea. Even if it was done virtually through Zoom, this act represented something so powerful to me. Tea is something widely popular amongst both eastern and western cultures, and this experience was about bringing us together and bringing these two worlds together. The act of sharing, listening, and accepting helps us to learn and grow together as human beings and recognize our shared humanity. I hope that I will be able to bring this idea to life for my students in the same way that it was brought to life for me. Something as simple as sharing tea with another person can change the world. One person at a time.

Additional Resources and Hands-on Activities

Below are some websites that explain several different team-building and social awareness activities that I've done with my students in the past. I hope to incorporate the knowledge I've gained from this fellowship to continue to add to and adapt these activities.

Specific Cultural Awareness Activities:

Archie Bunker's Neighborhood: Diversity, Discrimination, Oppression

Israel Palestine Activity: Adaptation of Archie Bunker

Privilege Walk: Privilege, Discrimination

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Soccer Ball: hands-on, creation