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ERA- Oral Histories Curriculum: ELA Course Rationale

The ERA Debate: Unit Rationale

ELA Curriculum Rationale

This unit will begin with students listening to oral histories from women who were involved with the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. This may be done in conjunction with the history unit. However, for the ELA course, students will be asked to focus on voice, story, and feeling. They will observe why the story being told is meaningful. Then students will learn how to develop questions which illicit meaningful responses, first in an interview they conduct on their fellow classmates, and then on an interview conducted on a family member, neighbor, or older friend. Lastly, students will be asked to reflect on their experiences creating oral histories for others and for themselves.

To be sure, some may say that ELA curricula should be based in reading and writing. While it’s true that English-Language Arts curricula are often based in reading, writing, and speaking, very rarely are students asked to listen. Active listening is an extremely important skill for students to develop. This unit not only asks students to listen actively but to develop interview questions which will draw out a person’s experience.  

This unit asks students to examine the importance of personal narratives around widely recognized events. bell hooks (1989) says, “It is crucial that those among us who resist and rebel, who survive and succeed, speak openly and honestly about our lives and the nature of our own personal struggles, the means by which we resolve and reconcile contradictions” (p.77). In their history course, they will be learning about how history is often told from the side of the victors. In their ELA course, they will have the opportunity to create a narrative of their own experience surrounding an event, which may or may not correlate with the “text book” version. Exploring personal narratives will allow students to engage in bell hooks' ideal of open and honest expression.

While interviewing each other, students will be participating in student-based learning which honors the students' ability to guide their own learning. This will also give students a feeling of empowerment, as they will be contributing to the historical knowledge on a particular event. As bell hooks (1989) says, “connection is based on understanding difference in experience and perspective and working to mediate and negotiate those terrains” (p. 79). Students will learn this connection with their classmates.

By interviewing their parents, relatives, or neighbors, students will begin to recognize these people as members of a greater historicity. They will see that history is created not just by elected officials and newspaper editors but by anyone who has the opportunity to tell their story. As the study of history moves in a new direction, one which seeks to understand the side of the oppressed, the marginalized, the underrepresented (see Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States), students will have an opportunity to participate in the writing of this new history.

The culmination of this unit will be a creation of a student’s own history and recognition that they have a story worth telling. While the unit may focus on listening goals, the confidence inspired by this recognition will certainly affect their writing and speaking ability as well. 


hooks, b. (1989). Keeping close to home: Class and education. Talking Back. South End Press.

Zinn, H. (1980). A People's History of The United States. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, New York, USA

The ERA Debate ELA Curriculum Rationale

Special Collections and Archives

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Oral Histories at GSU

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