Today’s guest post comes from Kelly Pace. Kelly teaches eleventh grade International Baccalaureate English and Theory of Knowledge in Hanover County, Virginia. She has taught ninth through twelfth grades over her eighteen-year teaching career. Connect with her on Twitter @KellyAPace.
Mentor Text: There’s a Brock Turner in All of o(UR) Lives
I don’t know why I could not get the story out of my head, but it would not go away. Perhaps it was because I was a University of Richmond alumni. Perhaps it was the combination of rage and embarrassment I felt towards my University–a school that I typically respect and praise. Yes, when CC Carrerras published her article in The Huffington Post comparing her rapist to Stanford University’s Brock Turner, I was angry and embarrassed by my alma mater’s reaction. Yet, I was equally inspired how Carrerras could use the written word to discuss a situation so personal, so devastating, and so emotional. Her raw words ultimately became the first mentor text for an assignment I am calling a “Metaphorical Op-Ed.”
I prefaced sharing this piece with my students by stating that what they were going to do today was going to be difficult. They would not be allowed to react to the article’s content; they simply had to look at how it was written. We discussed what it means to read like a writer, listing examples of writer’s craft they could look for when reading:
- sentence structure
- persuasive techniques
- paragraph structure
- figurative language
I read the article CC Carrerras published on September 6, 2016 in The Huffington Post “There’s a Brock Turner in All of o(UR) Lives” aloud to my students, asking them to annotate the text. I tried to read with passion, with conviction, even though they couldn’t react in an emotional way to the article. The article was written ten days prior to my lesson; it was current and passionate and students wanted to talk about the content. Yet, they refrained.
Here’s what happened instead. They started talking about the structure of the text. “She has a one sentence paragraph,” someone said in disbelief. “Can you really do that?” When I tried to point out that it makes her argument stand out, they saw possibilities and what techniques they wanted to try for themselves. They noticed the use of statistics, how she calls the reader to action at the end of the text, how some of her use of parentheses make the writing awkward, and most importantly, they discussed the impact of the metaphor of Brock Turner. I asked them to count and underline the number of times Carrerras uses the metaphor in her text. Eleven. The name “Brock Turner” was mentioned eleven times. “Just about every paragraph,” one student noticed.
After practicing reading like writers, I told them we were going to imitate Carrerras. The class before this one, we had spent time looking at Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as a metaphor for the Red Scare going on in the 1950’s. We also considered the characters of Miller’s play, choosing an adjective to describe each as well as labeling each as a noun. For example, John Proctor became the self-sacrificing martyr. Abigail Williams became the two-faced liar. The day I asked students to read like writers I brought up these labels and the way the Salem Witch trials could be a metaphor for what happened in 1953. I told them they needed to choose something they could be critical about right now in their lives. It could be as simple as the change in our school’s cafeteria food to teenagers should not be ridiculed for being obsessed with technology to the upcoming election. What I wanted them to do is be as persuasive as Carrerras was in her article. And just like Carrerras uses Brock Turner as a metaphor, I wanted them to either use The Crucible itself or a character from the play as a metaphor. I gave them an example I knew they could relate to: If I find Hillary Clinton to be dishonest, I might say she is a modern day Abigail Williams because of her dishonesty.
Students brainstormed and came up with ideas such as these:
A persuasive essay was born through the use of this mentor text with my promise to students to continue with the following mini lessons:
- Using metaphors in writing
- Incorporating persuasive language
- Finding credible evidence
- What is parallel structure?
- Writing the counterclaim
Carrerras’ use of the metaphor of Brock Turner changed the way my students look at writing. I’m still angry and confused by my alma mater’s reaction to Carrerras’ situation, but when I read her piece over and over again like a writer, I see students open to the possibility of turning a regular persuasive essay into so much more. “I’ll always think of this article when I see that name, ‘Brock Turner,’” one student said. Perhaps when they finish their metaphorical op-ed pieces, I too, will never look at the characters of The Crucible the same way again.