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Why St. Michael Needs New 9th Grade English Literature:

By Elizabeth Husom

I am a Buffalo, MN parent who has worked in marketing, advertising and career development for 25 years. Much of it has focused around communications and training, which includes curriculum writing and decision-making. To help with success, I created systems and tests. I ran Speak through them, and the answer was clear. Give 9th graders better options.

Effective curriculum and marketing must:

  1. Address the target audience, which often included a wide variety of people, cultures, learning styles and intelligence, respecting beliefs and values

  2. Give people hope, show options for positive choices, no matter the situation

  3. Be spelled correctly, use proper grammar and words, be clear and flow well

  4. Not push personal agendas, beliefs, political slants or view of the world

  5. Properly prepare people for future steps

For several years I helped job seekers secure new positions. This included coursework. Via research, I found many lacked confidence, an ability to read and comprehend well, lacked knowledge about career fields, and limited comfort for fellow classmates and the trainers.

I had a limited amount of hours to teach. I needed to focus all curriculum on the act of securing jobs for group courses. Although tough, when writing, determining, and/or presenting curriculum to job seekers, I needed to put deeper psychological, learning, and relational issues to the side.

In spite of my urges to go deeper, for group courses, I created curriculum that:

  1. Ensured everything was extremely clear, grammatically correct and didn’t swear.

  2. Used fitting stories to give hope and open doors–spent 1-2 sentences on a negative and then focused on success steps and results

  3. Shared employer testimonies, who without fail said they wanted employees that could communicate, be willing to learn, read and decipher instructions and documents.

I wanted people to know everything. So I developed additional courses and worked 1:1 with students who wanted more than basic info. I needed to be assured in my own mind that when they had a job they could keep, I was successful. Once they had the money to pay bills, people will look deeper. But they need to get to step 1 before going to step 2 and beyond.

English class ideal top focus: Help improve students’ literary skills. Who are they now, what do they need to improve, and does Speak help?

STMA 9th graders are A, B, and C grade level students with different comfort levels for dating and sexuality. Breaking up kids by offering different a book is tough. If someone is embarrassed or can’t understand, they won’t get the main point. Speak violates some families’ values and beliefs. Much is negative. There is swearing. It hops around, and isn’t always clear in a time when maintaining attention is tough for many (Stolen Focus by Johan Hari for lays out specifics well). Books that spend longer amounts of time on one item can help. Future steps for kids differ, and include: current classes, HS graduation, jobs, post-secondary schools, military, families and adult life. Reading, written and oral communication are vital skills for life.

If there was nothing else to help improve essential English skills, maybe Speak would be OK. But there are many better options - easy to most, non-controversial and interesting.

Keeping Speak is like this: Let’s say a great cook with plenty of food heard their lactose-intolerant Jewish neighbors were hungry. They invited the family to dinner.

Should they:

  1. Dig through a full fridge and freezer, locate some pork, make ham, cheesy potatoes, and cream cake that was full of preservatives and high calories, or…

  2. Make turkey, broccoli, and pumpkin pie with almond milk that was yummy, 100% natural, kosher, healthier and lower calorie?

It seems the person with plenty of resources and tools to cook healthy food that everyone could eat and enjoy, would only make the “A” meal if they had bad motives. I don’t believe people who enjoy Speak have bad motives - I’m just begging you to understand our beliefs.

People who don’t advocate for Speak still believe in free speech. I’ve never heard of a person who wants to burn it - we simply believe it’s not for 9th grade English. Enjoyers can read it and share it with their kids. For instance; our family enjoys reading The Bible. This also speaks against rape. However; I don’t expect it to be part of the curriculum in a non-Christian public school.

PLEASE REMEMBER: Real life skills, such as being able to read a contract correctly, make decisions based on accurate understanding of information, and speak to a variety of people will be one of the best gifts and protection teachers will give students. We can learn from issues that become positive testaments that give hope. So I encourage teachers not to hide from issues that kids may be going through, but instead find books that will help psyches as well as improve literature skills. You wouldn’t be forgetting needs by exchanging Speak for a different book. STMA has counselors and social workers. They can help kids with troubles and English teachers can help with English. Teachers aren’t doing too little if they aren’t trying to solve every problem kids have.


Elizabeth Husom, GCDF

Buffalo, MN

FYI on my history:

I have a BS in Psychology and English and a MBC with a PR emphasis and certified GCDF (Global Career Development Facilitator). My 25 year career has focused largely in marketing, writing, editing, and career development. I also have many years of curriculum writing and determination experience, most notably while with the DEED Minneapolis Workforce Center and as an Adjunct college professor. I am also a certified Strengths coach.

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