A new curriculum has been created from the literature of 1931 Douglass High School graduate Ralph Ellison, and Douglass students say the novelist’s work remains relevant.
“History reoccurs, because this book was written so long ago and now we are going through it all over again,” junior Kionna Washington said after reading Ellison’s best-known work, “Invisible Man.”
The Ralph Ellison Foundation introduced the curriculum to Douglass teachers last week, and English teacher Carolyn Shelton has already implemented parts of the program.
“The students need to know about race, the issues that affect race,” Shelton said, and one issue is “the way African-American children perceive themselves. It is also the issue of how others perceive them, and that can be negative or positive.”
Students in Shelton’s classes spent two days creating scenes from Ellison’s writing to hang outside their classroom.
“You do not want to read something that is just boring,” said junior Yauntae Knight, who has gained a new understanding of life since reading the book.
“It actually takes you on an adventure and makes you think,” Knight said.
Douglass High School Principal Andrew Pearson said he hopes students take the book’s central theme and apply it to their lives.
“The overall theme of ‘Invisible Man,’ is him searching for his identity in a world that seems to be raging war against him,” Pearson said.
Students were asked to apply the book to their own lives. Shelton said most of her students had never read the book.
“Us reading this book by Ralph Ellison, it is really helping us open our eyes up,” Washington said. “Some stuff is very sly, it sneaks past the naked eye and you have to open that third one to see the secrets behind the text.”
Junior Perry Johnson said it made him consider his role as a leader to younger football players.
“On the field I have to be a leader to the freshman and teach them the ropes,” Johnson said. “It encourages people to be a leader not a follower, because you can make your own path for yourself if you try hard.”
The curriculum is designed to showcase all of Ellison’s work, with a focus on “Flying Home.”
Teachers can use the 13 short stories in “Flying Home” over a 13-week period or at a pace that students are comfortable with, said LaTasha Timberlake, teacher and leader effectiveness coordinator for Oklahoma City Schools.
“It is a curriculum written with historical aspects,” Timberlake said. “It should be about what we all have to bring to one another.”
Shelton said “Flying Home” is one of Ellison’s lesser-known works but is filled with life lessons for her students.
Timberlake said the new curriculum touches on themes of love, relationships and racial identity.
The foundation provides the curriculum, but purchasing the books is left up to the schools.
Pearson said funding for new books is not easy to come by, but Douglass is buying 200 books. Each book costs $11.99.
CAPTION: Junior Prince Jennings reclines on the floor to create a scene from “Invisible Man.” Douglass High School students have a new curriculum based on the literature of 1931 Douglass graduate Ralph Ellison. [Photos by Eriech Tapia]