As teachers begin the second semester of the 2021 – 2022 school year, lesson plans are available for the essays in the Nobody’s Home anthology. Links to these lesson plans can be found at the bottom of the essays with the author bio and also next to the essay title on the Index page.
As the editor of a project on beliefs, myths, and narratives in Southern culture, one of my initial thoughts was: Who better to read and consider these essays than young people growing up in the South? And, subsequently, who better to lead those young people to the essays than a high school English or social studies teacher? Being a teacher myself, I know the path that has to be traveled to get there. Assignments must be aligned with standards, and for many teachers, lesson plans must be turned in to their administrators. So, I took those all or part of that burden off the teachers and cleared a path to using the essays in their classes.
Put simply, here’s what I see: The South is changing, and I don’t see many people attempting to help younger generations make sense of these changes. Older generations talk a lot about the way things used to be. Some advocates and activists point us to the Civil Rights movement and the history that made it necessary. A bunch of people listen to country music’s cultural navel-gazing. All of these are efforts at answering the question, What does is mean to be Southern today? But almost no one is discussing the shift to the Sunbelt, or tax incentives that draw people and money from outside the region, or the population shifts that deplete and alter small towns, or the declines in our once-stolid insistence on regular church attendance. In the last fifty years, our economy has changed, our politics have changed, our social structures have changed, where we live has changed, and our religious practices have changed— and almost none of that is being discussed in schools, which leaves myths to take the place of actual understanding. The closest I see to anything resembling open, honest discourse is the push being made on high school students to either enter a trade or learn to code— meeting the needs of the new Southern economy. The rest of it being avoided, neglected, or ignored in monumental ways, with some aspects being challenged as an affront to “traditional values.”
Teaching from Nobody’s Home probably won’t change the world by itself, but the essays and lesson plans can be tools in a teacher’s kit to start a few teenagers thinking about this new world we live in. The essays and their accompanying lessons will ask high school students to consider who they are, what their cultures consist of, and whether their beliefs might be grounded in fact or steeped in folklore. That doesn’t mean endorsing or refuting anything— it means asking that most important question: what’s this larger thing got to do with me? To any critic who asks, what good is the stuff we learn in English and history, my reply is this: teaching inquiry and the ability to find and assess facts to expose unsupported ideas and assertions might be the most valuable skill any person could ever learn.