Notre Dame professor discusses the importance of diverse literature and describes effective ways to engage students in the classroom

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --A controversial bill is making its way through the Indiana State Senate. House bill 1134, also known as the “education matters” bill, would limit the teaching of race, religion and sexual orientation.

Opponents of this bill argue that it could be a step back in civil rights progress. Those that support the bill believe that it amplifies tension in an already divisive country.  I sat down with Notre Dame professor and expert in children’s literacy, Dr. Ernest for his opinion on the matter. 

In a divisive nation, Morrell says that students need to listen to one another to better understand each other. Through literature, students are able to learn about the struggles of others. And by telling others’ stories, students can achieve a more expanded worldview.

“I can’t think of a good work of literature that doesn’t talk about some kind of conflict,” says Morrell.

“Literature has to be one way that we learn about ourselves and learn about others, so we’re gonna learn about the good and the bad. We’ll learn about human potential. We will also learn about human weakness and human fallibility. “

While children’s literacy is important, it can be difficult to engage students in classic and traditional works of literature where characters face issues that are inconceivable to the child’s reality. Morrell’s research claims that this does not have to be the case.

What do Tupac and Mark Twain have in common? They both produced work that can be  thoughtfully analyzed to strengthen students’ literacy skills.

In Morrell’s research, he encourages students to try out different mediums and sources as literary works. He says mediums like film, song, art and pop culture allow students to become more interested in their school work.

He calls this curriculum “choice and voice;” Morrell likes to give his students “choice,” meaning he wants to give them options on what medium they could study and create. For example, his students create documentaries—podcasts—websites and more. This allows students to share their work outside of the classroom. Students are able to share their worldview, or their “voice” as it allows them to share their individual points of view, while strengthening their critical thinking skills.

Morrell typically works with underserved communities—but this style of instruction can be incredibly helpful for any student of any background or age.

Read part one of my conversation with Dr. Morrell here.

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