At Lowell School, learning a new language goes beyond memorizing vocabulary and grammar or practicing everyday conversation like ordering at a restaurant. Traditional and contemporary cultural lessons expand classical language education and engage students more deeply on why language is used and how it shapes societies. Last month, 8th graders in Coleman Rose’s Spanish class investigated the cultural significance of the 2020 Mexico City Women’s Day demonstrations to gain such insights.
Coleman began the lesson by reviewing the demonstrations' premise, which started peacefully but took a turn when police clashed with protestors. The women sought justice in light of minimization and underreporting of gender hate crimes—femicides. He reviewed recent grammar lessons and infused activities with new vocabulary terms like rabia (rage), exigir (to demand), salir (to leave), and derribar (bring down). Students were then challenged to connect the words and images to formulate their understanding of the event. Coleman pushed students to think critically about what they learned within the context of the Mexican culture. “I encourage them to think—not assume—that [the protests] were rational responses,” he said. Coleman facilitated a discussion in Spanish, asking the students, “what could create that situation?”
Eighth graders summarized the events, connecting the demonstrations to the feminist movement and actions in Spain and Mexico challenging chauvinism and the centering of masculinity in language. The students incorporated knowledge gained during the first two trimesters and identified how gender in language mirrors the gender politics of a society. Expanding on the students’ connections, Coleman facilitated two more lessons diving deeper into the influence gendered language has on Latinx societies and current social justice movements.
Students observed that when masculinity assumes representation for all in Spanish, it annuls feminine qualities, disempowering the feminine viewpoint and voice. “What we say is very important,” one student said, reflecting on the lessons, “using words like facil (easy) dehumanizes women.” They also connected the power of language as a driver of the demonstrations and civil unrest. “The language used around women influences how we think and act,” another student added, “discriminatory language leads to discriminatory behavior.” Eventually, the 8th graders began to draw comparisons between Spanish and English-speaking cultures, wondering how they could tell if one country is more progressive than another.
With social justice standards steeped throughout Lowell’s curricula, teachers open the classroom experience beyond the transmission of information and into a practice ground for responsible citizenship. Placing classroom lessons in broader contexts becomes second nature for our students, readying them for a lifetime of being change-makers and advocates in the world.
Lowell School is a private PK-8th grade school located in NW Washington, DC. At Lowell students gain the knowledge, skills, and social-emotional literacy to be the bold leaders and creative problem solvers our world needs.