Equity & Access

LEARN Marginal Syllabus 2019-20 (December)—Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Reimagining the Canon for Racial Justice

Our December text for the 2019-20 Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN Marginal Syllabus examines how a book, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, by Jason Reynolds, exemplifies possibilities for a new type of literary canon. In an award-winning piece written for English Journal, authors Mario Worlds and Henry “Cody” Miller argue for the inclusion of this new, non-traditional story in secondary English classrooms in order to open conversations among young readers about racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. Worlds’ and Millers’ writing surfaces the importance of rethinking text selection as a means of critiquing racial hierarchy in the curricular canon and dismantling white supremacy.

This is the second month of LEARN 2019-20, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month of the 2019-2020 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published in four different NCTE journals, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the 2019-20 syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by the National Writing Project.

December Topic: Disrupting the canon with Spider-Man for racial justice

Fortunately, schools, especially English classrooms, can be spaces to challenge these manifestations of White supremacy. Teaching Reynolds’s Miles Morales: Spider-Man disrupts canonical wisdom about what “counts” as a valuable text.

“Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Reimagining the Canon for Racial Justice”

As part of our close study of this text, guest readers Latrice Ferguson and Christopher Rogers joined the Marginal Syllabus team to talk about the article with this month’s partner authors, Mario Worlds and Henry “Cody” Miller.

This month we will read together an argument made by Mario Worlds and Henry “Cody” Miller for English educators to challenge the racial hierarchy of canonical literacy curricula and teach Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Jason Reynolds, 2017). The authors highlight a specific rationale for the inclusion of the book in secondary Language Arts curriculum while taking aim at the way traditional texts most often situate racism in our country’s past and can be approached in school as  “timeless” or “universal. In these ways, both texts and schools can fail to support discourse about modern issues facing students of color.

The potential Worlds and Miller see in Miles Morales: Spider-Man lies in the ways that Miles’ identity, circumstances, and the “restorying” of Spider-Man collectively takes aim at contemporary inequities among both school and society. This article details how key features of Miles’ story, namely a White teacher portrayed as a villain and the school-to-prison pipeline viewed as a criminal enterprise, support a critical reading of the role schools play in exacerbating social inequality. The authors offer a host of possible text pairings to accompany this superhero story at the same time they highlight the work of educators organizing online employing the hashtag #DisruptTexts. This reading is a call to action for English teachers to change the texts students encounter in the classroom to dismantle a racial hierarchy schools can perpetuate.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Reimagining the Canon for Racial Justice,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts, reactions, and questions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month of December. We also encourage you to use this reading and the opportunity to annotate however the Marginal Syllabus best suits your interests—organize a study group among colleagues, bring a class you are teaching to participate in this online discussion either publicly or privately, engage as an individual, or connect this text and conversation to other interest-driven activities.

Image attribution: Abijithka CC BY-SA 4.0

This post is part of the NWP Radio collection.