ABSTRACT

Mandates and standards position teachers as responsible for meeting those requirements. However, mandates and standards rarely say how a teacher should teach or why. In the case of the genocide mandate, we know that the purpose is to (1) recognize that crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated across the globe and (2) deter indifference to such crimes and human suffering wherever they may occur. However, no unit of instruction, especially if it is ancillary and limited to stage identification, can bring about the sort of change we need to stop crimes against humanity at home and across the globe. Rhetoric is one way English teachers can illuminate how words create conditions that sustain frameworks of inclusion and exclusion, how institutions work to legitimize certain groups and knowledge. To intervene in the exclusionary conditions I’ve noted in schools and states, teachers and students have to see themselves as witnesses to both the systems that create inequality and the people the systems impact. From the stance of a witness, we learn to attend to others and the systems that impact them. In recognizing others, we begin to feel a call to better understand the systems that create injustice and to, ultimately, intervene. The teacher’s job, then, is to prepare students to listen, read, and respond to stories of humanity in ethical ways so as not to perpetuate unjust systems.