POSTED ON BEHALF OF DANIEL KNOLL
Over the summer I interned at Teach For America. In the corner of the office was a resource shelf with all kinds of books and videos for Teachers and Staff to check out. After walking by the shelf dozens of times I noticed one title in particular – “Louder Than A Bomb.” I asked to borrow the film and didn’t know I’d picked up the best documentary I’ve seen in a while. Louder Than A Bomb is the world’s largest youth slam poetry contest held every year in Chicago. The “Louder Than A Bomb” documentary follows the stories of four Chicago-area school’s High School poetry teams as they figure out how to work together and ultimately share their stories during the competition. Poetry serves as an outlet for these students to capture their emotions and work through some very complex issues they face every day.
This documentary is an excellent resource for teachers to use in a high school English classroom. By introducing the concept of slam poetry and demonstrating how emotional and “real” these poems can be, the film sets an excellent example for a poetry / journaling piece of the curriculum. One could follow up a showing of the film by challenging students to write their own slam poetry and the class could host its own Louder Than A Bomb competition. For most students, the idea of sharing their own poetry with the rest of the class sounds terrifying. By giving students a chance to try and capture their emotions and develop their voice pushes students outside their comfort zone. For students that are struggling with stressful or traumatic events in their lives, a simple opportunity to share their story is the start to handling the difficulties they face.
Another facet of the poetry lesson can require students to craft a poem together. By sharing their stories and working as a group, students have the opportunity to work on cooperation and teamwork skills. For students that struggle to get started, teachers could provide a general topic or key words to get the creative process started. These starter concepts could focus around the core values of peace education, or one of the 7 pillars of peace building education
Of the core pillars of peace education, this documentary best relates to community building and reframing history non-violently. While I would not start the semester off by asking students to share personal poetry with the class, the exercise mentioned above is a great way for students to take that next step with their classmates and use this platform as a way to share a part of them that they may have never felt comfortable sharing before. The simple act of asking students to share their story may be just the kind of opportunity students have been waiting for. Also asking students to work as a team helps build cohesion as a group and develop ties amongst students in the class.
The more challenging pillar that Louder Than A Bomb integrates into the classroom is the ability to reframe personal history. By giving students an opportunity to share a chosen trauma or part of their up bringing, poetry can help students cope with their past and harness the lessons they’ve learned. By writing your own poetry students gain control over their story, which may be the first time they’ve felt control over an issue.
Lessons like this may go beyond the scope of a typical classroom session and the kind of support teachers can provide students. For students who don’t feel comfortable sharing their own stories, the teacher could provide instances in history that students could write a poem about that defines the event from a peaceful perspective. The stories and poems within this documentary are inspiring and challenging. Poetry is an underutilized medium for students today, and this type of lesson introduces the power of poetry in a modern way. But don’t take my word for it, just listen to their stories: