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Travel Guides to the Past: My Students Explore History and Slavery’s Legacy in Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”

By Laura Winnick

Kindred Travel Guide ProjectsI’ve been a high school teacher for the past two years at REALM, a project-based learning school in Berekely, CA. My teaching philosophy is rooted in critical pedagogy and my curriculum is dedicated to liberation and social change; I bring in marginalized voices to introduce my students to diversified texts and experiences. Looking to Freire, I offer my students opportunities to “read the world and read the word.” To accomplish this, I combine California Common Core standards of writing, reading, speaking and listening with critical media literacy. I take after Jeffrey Duncan Andrade in supporting students to be critical consumers of all information they encounter in their daily lives. I teach skills so they can become more capable producers of counter-information based on their own truths. 

Teaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred is one of the most important projects I embark on with my students. I’ve taught it for the past two years, and have seen my students, previously bored by texts, evolve into voracious readers, horrified by the grim depictions of slavery and transfixed by the possibility of time travel. This year, we paired John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s recently published graphic novel with the dense fictional text, and students arrived every day begging to read the graphic novel, utterly obsessed with the artistic rendering. In this unit, our essential questions are extremely difficult. We examine: How do race and gender affect our identities? What are the lingering effects of slavery? How are people impacted by their ancestral histories?

KindredTo this end, we discuss child trafficking, the prison industrial complex, post-traumatic slave syndrome, and examine other overt and covert forms of white supremacy that exist to this day. My students are students of color, and they don’t necessarily need a chart to tell them that racism still exists. However, I believe that is important for me to provide the language for my students to make connections between America’s past and their lived reality. I hope that my classroom is as much a space in which students learn to name and confront their own oppression as it is a space where young people joyfully engage with empowering projects that ask them to step up as leaders and citizens.

This secondary component of my classroom prompted me to reexamine the Kindred final project. This year, I asked students to create “Travel Guides to the Past.” I came to this project after examining and increasing my capacity for project-based learning in my classroom. I wanted students to become authors of potential time travel; therefore, they took on the voice of travel guide writers, and “advertised” nineteenth-century Maryland in order to turn advertisement into warning. The goal of the project is for students to distill the details of nineteenth-century Maryland as described by Octavia Butler and make connections between the contemporary moment and slavery’s legacy. This project requires them to practice literary analysis through close reading and synthesis. As authors of warnings of America’s white supremacist past, students became more able to identify and reflect on its lingering existence.

“Kindred” Travel Guide Projects

Diana Amaya & Maravilla Hernandez

Amaya_Hernandez_TravelGuideProject_back Amaya_Hernandez_TravelGuideProject_interior
Bryan Espinoza & German Ines

Bryan-Espinoza-German-Ines-Travel-Guide-Project-1 Bryan-Espinoza-German-Ines-Travel-Guide-Project-2
DeJon Hodges

DeJon-Hodges-Travel-Guide-Project-1 DeJon-Hodges-Travel-Guide-Project-2
Fatima Portillo

Travel guide By Fatima Portillo


About the Author 

Laura Winnick received her Master’s in Arts in Education from the University of California-Berkeley as a member of the Multicultural Urban Secondary English program. She has taught eleventh- and twelfth-grade English for the past two years at a small, independent charter school in Berkeley. A social justice educator, she cares deeply about bringing culturally relevant curriculum, restorative discipline practices, project-based learning, and technology into her classroom.