Fighting for Literacy Across America

Teaching English at Oakland High in the late 1990s, Ernest Morrell faced the age-old problem of how to get modern students interested in a canon of long-dead writers and poets. He watched kids muddle through class, heads down, interest limited. Then one day, while teaching Beowulf, a student’s eyes lit up when he realized the story was similar to a popular rap song. That day, Professor Morrell saw a spark of joy, enthusiasm and engagement and wondered how he could give that spark to all his students.

He started bringing in other contemporary tangents – pop culture references, movies, music – but without losing the basis in classic literature. His students were learning. They were engaged. And, most importantly, Professor Morrell says, they were learning to love school and love themselves.

Since then, Professor Morrell has authored K-5 and 6-12 curricula which are being taught by schools in every state. He’s advocated for teaching that not only improves academic outcomes, but also personal and social ones. And he’s teaching Notre Dame undergraduates and ACE students to find that spark in their lives and the lives of those around them.