Reviewed by Linda Christensen
The Rethinking Schools article below, by Linda Christensen, is about teaching Daniel Beaty’s poetry that was the basis for his picture book, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me.
Too often today, schools are about standards and common curriculum: Scarlet Letter and Huck Finn first quarter, move on to Great Gatsby … And too often, I get caught up in that land, too. Then my heart gets cracked open by students, and I remember that first I must teach the child who is in the class. By structuring a curriculum that allows room for students lives and by listening to their stories, I can locate the right book, the right poem that turns pain into power — while I teach reading and writing. Unless I consciously build these opportunities into the curriculum, there is little hope of getting authenticity from students.
Daniel Beaty, poet and playwright, came to life for me one New Year’s Eve when my husband, Bill, and I watched hour after hour of the HBO show Def Poetry Jam. I fell in love with many poets that night, but when I watched Daniel Beaty perform “Knock Knock,” I knew I was witnessing a poet whose performance and words would inspire my students. I bought the Def Poetry DVD, transcribed the words, and carried Beaty with me to class. Partly autobiographical, the poem speaks directly to many of my students because Beaty’s drive-home message in everything he does is that in order to heal ourselves, our society, and our world, we must turn our pain into power.
Daniel Beaty’s Def Poetry Jam performance of “Knock Knock.”
I taught the poem to several classes at Portland’s Jefferson High School days before Barack Obama was elected president. I’d spent 24 years teaching high school language arts at this predominantly African American school, and I returned this year to work with the faculty. I left each class in tears because when poetry, like Beaty’s, touches students’ lives in real ways, I am reminded of both the pain and the hope that schools harbor.
“Knock Knock” is constructed in three parts. Beaty begins with the story of the father’s imprisonment, moves to a direct address to the father, “Papa, come home ’cause I miss you,” and ends in a letter that the poet writes to “heal” and “father” himself. The poem, and Beaty’s performance, are so powerful that I didn’t want to interrupt it with instruction or teacher talk before they watched it the first time. I wanted them to feel the poem. My only instruction was, “As you watch the poem, notice what works for you or doesn’t work. Just jot notes, so we can talk about it after we watch it a couple of times.” Continue reading.
Note: This article and more are in Linda Christensen’s book Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom.
Children With Absent Parents by Chrysanthius Lathan at Rethinking Schools.
More children’s books on incarceration are here: Incarceration booklist
Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty
on December 17, 2013
Reading Level: Early Childhood, Grade K
Review Source: Rethinking Schools
Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes knock knock on my door and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. And my papa, he tells me, "I love you."
But what happens when, one day, that "knock knock" doesn't come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.