For my doctoral work, I took a journey into the lived experience of African American students reading Great Books. In this workshop I invite others to experience the journey. The research question that guided my study was “What are the lived experiences of African American students reading Great Books literature?” especially when including African American thinkers like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Marva Collins, Anna Julia Cooper, Gloria Ladson-Billings, James Baldwin, and others. Years ago, I taught a Great Books literature class for six years at a small Classical Christian School school in Southern Maryland. Twenty-two African American students came through, and five of those students were able to participate in this study where we all met around a table, just as we did years ago for the Great Books class. These former students and I went away for a weekend retreat to engage in conversation about their lived experience. The students had started out struggling with embracing and internalizing the books, but progressed to transformative insights—the experience of reading the literature deeply affected their lives as adults.
As a culminating event, the participants created and performed a play, entitled “The Table,” which provided a visual representation of their lived experiences reading Great Books literature. The play was performed at St. John’s College during President’s Day weekend and Frederick Douglass’ birthday. This experience has been a guiding light for me as I move forward as an educator of primarily African American students in the school I help lead.
Dr. Anika Prather has earned her B.A. from Howard University in elementary education and graduate degrees in education from New York University and Howard University. She has a Masters in liberal arts from St. John’s College and in 2017 completed her PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park with a focus on literacy education. She has served as a teacher, director of education and the Head of School for public and Christian schools. Currently she is the founder of The Living Water School (www.thelwschool.org). The inspiration for starting this school comes from her three creative and curious kids. Anika lives in Maryland with her husband Damon (an engineer and business manager for the school), 2 sons (Dillon-10/Destin-9), 1 daughter (Day-6) and way too many pets. Anika also enjoys urban farming and raises angora rabbits and spins yarn from their wool for her hobby of crocheting and knitting and a few herbs and veggies. Her inspirations in life are her grandmother (who taught her to crochet and garden), her mom (who led her to faith in Jesus Christ and introduced her to classical education), and Marva Collins and Anna Julia Cooper (whose lives and work serve as North Stars for her work in education).