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Exploring The FOG MACHINE: High School Classrooms

 

  

This visit with students in English 151—taught by Mr. Lee Carlson at St. James High School in St. James, MN—illustrates possibilities for exploring The FOG MACHINE with high school students.

English 151 is offered through Southwest Minnesota State University’s College Now. This concurrent enrollment program enables high school students to earn college credit while remaining on their high school campus.

With approval from his SMSU faculty advisor, Mr. Carlson selected The FOG MACHINE. Presentation material and classroom discussion during the visit were tailored to support key ideas being taught in English 151, especially the roles that critical thinking, intention, and revision play in authentic writing.

This page presents assignments given by Mr. Carlson and samples of his students’ work.

 

 

“Studying this novel and interacting with its author has opened my students’ eyes to realities in our community and armed them with a more aware and empathetic perspective from which to pursue change.”

Lee Carlson, St. James HS English teacher, Southwest MN State University provisional instructor 

 


Before Students Read

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English 151 students at SJHS watched and discussed the Academy Award-winning short documentary “America’s Civil Rights Movement: A Time for Justice,” from Teaching Tolerance. The film, narrated by Julian Bond and featuring John Lewis, depicts:

·         Montgomery Bus Boycott

·         School crisis in Little Rock

·         Violence in Birmingham

·         1965 march for voting rights

 

How "A Time for Justice" Supports Teaching The FOG MACHINE

Students:

·         Hear from film narrators who were in the heat of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement battles

·         Read about events described in the film through the eyes of three fictional point-of-view characters

·         Connect historical documentary to historical fiction, developing appreciation for research to “get it right”

·         Discover how the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery led Ms. Follett to write her novel

·         Compare desegregation in Little Rock to Meridian, MS, recognizing the movement as many diverse stories

 

It's the Conversation that Matters

Classroom discussion revealed another story—one close to home—about Dr. C.E. McNaught, second-term St. James Mayor who was installed in 1930 as Grand Dragon of the Klan’s Tristate Realm of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This:

·         Helped students realize that oppression was not isolated to the Deep South

·         Supported The FOG MACHINE’s overarching theme that we are all prejudiced

 

As Students Read

Short (5-paragraph) reflective essays help students process as they read. One such assignment asked students to relate The FOG MACHINE to this quote from Elie Wiesel—Nobel-Prize winning writer, teacher, and activist known for his memoir Night, in which he recounts his experiences surviving the Holocaust:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

After Students Read

The “Stories from Civil Rights History, Then and Now” Classroom Engagement Series explores connections between:

·         The time of the Civil Rights Movement and today

·         The setting for The FOG MACHINE and elsewhere

Depending on the length of the classroom visit, these connections will be examined in more or less depth. This section offers questions to use with your students for a post-visit discussion. Teachers may email Susan to receive insights and hints for guiding the discussion.

Jim Crow:

The Jim Crow of over half a century ago made African Americans second-class citizens at best.

·         What was Jim Crow?

·         Where in the US did Jim Crow exist?

·         What is the connection between Freedom Summer and Jim Crow?

·         Has Jim Crow disappeared?

·         What does Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness suggest?

·         Compare rights—voting, public access, public benefits, education—as fought for and won in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement to today.

Other Groups Experiencing Discrimination:

The FOG MACHINE is an exploration of prejudice, set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1964, through the eyes of a 12-year-old white Catholic girl, a young black woman who laves Mississippi for Chicago, and a Jewish Freedom Summer volunteer from New York City. As such, the group of American citizens whose history is examined is African Americans.

·         What other groups of citizens have been (or are being) oppressed in America?

·         Briefly compare their experience to that of African Americans and the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties.

The Role of Young People in Civil Rights Movements, Then and Now:

·          Compare and contrast SNCC to a youth-centric social justice organization of today, such as Black Lives Matter.

The Overarching Symbol of The FOG MACHINE:

·         Discuss the “fog” and the “machine” in relation to then and now.

 

Student Writing


 “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increase. Somebody else carries on.”
—Ella Baker
, civil and human rights activist influential in NAACP, MLK’s SCLC, and SNCC

Excerpts from reflective essays by St. James High School students in Mr. Lee Carlson’s English 151 classes, offered through Southwest MN State University’s College Now concurrent enrollment program:

While reading this book, you are teleported to another time. You can feel the pain and neglect of the characters as if you were in their position. You can feel the hateful eyes watching you as you do the chores of the house. You feel as though YOU are the one who is working for a few cents an hour.

—HOLLIE P., “Would You Stand up for Someone Different than You?”

Before starting The FOG MACHINE, I thought it would be a repeat of a history lesson I’ve already had, with hardly any plot twists or things to keep me interested. But I found myself invested in what direction the characters were heading. Every one of the personalities in the story helps shape the way the main character C.J. sees the world. This book did a fantastic job showing how not all white families had the same views on segregation and their fellow black man. The book also brought the difficulty of being a black man and getting a decent job to light. It informed us about all of the different kinds of protests that went on in that time era. Overall this book gave me a great insider’s look on what it would be like to be black in that day and age. It highlighted the hardships they had to endure and their strength of character.

—CHRIS J., Untitled

Racism and discrimination have been a problem as long as our nation’s history and will continue to be a problem for years to come. African Americans have taken many hard earned steps towards their freedom but are not fully there yet. The FOG MACHINE has opened my eyes to the hardships African Americans have faced and the progress they have made. In order to keep this progress going we must listen to the words of Elie Wiesel, “We must always take sides…”

—BRADY H., “We Must Always Take Sides”

Throughout all of C.J.’s struggles she remained strong. No white person could take away her being proud of who she is. C.J. knew her place in the world, even if it was working for a living. She teaches us a lesson in The FOG MACHINE. You don’t let other people define you, you define yourself.

—MACY L., “Proud of Color”

C.J. is a quiet person who keeps her opinions about the Civil Rights Movement to herself. In the beginning, when she is frightened by the sound of the word “change,” she lets the “tormentor,” aka the people she works for, ridicule the black race. Because she stays silent, she finds herself in situations where the insults become more regular. However, through time, C.J. is gradually finding her voice.

—SAMANTHA R.-T., “Waiting in Silence”

There is no right or wrong way to act when faced with life threatening obstacles like C.J. and Flo had to endure.

—BAILEY T., “Fog Machine Response”

The book has a bunch of examples of what Wiesel’s quote truly means in everyday life in that era. There are also ways this quote and book correlate to life today. Some people take sides in arguments. Others don’t get involved and stay out of things, bringing no peace to victims. Those who stay silent and don’t want their opinions heard are hurting more than themselves.

—AUBREY E., “A Civil Rights Era”

People were afraid to speak up at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. They were afraid to get involved because of the potential consequences. Those who did speak up and take a stand were tormented. The continued silence by those who were too afraid to speak up only encouraged the tormentors to continue. It wasn’t just during the Civil Rights Movement, you even see it in today’s society. If we see something happening that we know is bad, but we won’t be affected, we turn the other cheek.

—SYDNEY H., “Speak Up”

C.J. has little hope when she hears “Wait for a better time” from Brother James. The congregation has heard this maybe one too many times. He wants them alive and safe, just like most mothers and fathers.

—MADISON C., “Silence Is the Enemy”

 


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