StoryCorps is an American non-profit organization founded in 2003 by radio producer David Isay. Its stated mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world”.
The short film “The Treasures of Mrs. Grady's Library” (4.5 minutes) is a real-life story told by Judge Olly Neal, who grew up in Arkansas during the 1950s. It counts an experience he had during his high school years: although he wasn’t a very committed student, he visited the school library one day, where he spotted a book by the African American author Frank Yerby. The cover caught his interest. But, instead of checking it out officially, he just took it because he didn’t want to be ridiculed by his friends for reading a book. When he put it back on the shelf after reading it, there was another book by Frank Yerby, which he also took away secretly and read. He found out later that one of the librarians had watched him taking the book and even drove all the way to Memphis several times to buy new books for him to read. He credits her for arousing his interest in reading, which helped him to prepare for the extensive reading at law school later in life and enabled him to have a successful career.
The film that is presented in cartoon form is interesting for English learners of all ages from a B2 level. Please find a suggestion below for a classroom activity that can be used with the film.
The teacher asks the students if they like reading and if they sometimes visit a library and, if so, what types of books or media they borrow there.
Students are told that they will watch a short film that involves a library. The teacher asks them to answer the following questions:
Who is the protagonist?
Where does the story take place?
When did it take place?
What happens in the story?
Why didn’t Ollie check out the book officially?
The teacher stops the video at 1.14 minutes so that students can answer the above questions. Some students may misinterpret Ollie’s motives for not officially checking out the book. In this case, the relevant part should be watched again. Next, the teacher asks students how they think the story will end. After watching the film, students are invited to comment on the film with one or two adjectives and on the takeaway (the main message) for them.
One key aspect of the story is the peer pressure Olly Neill felt exposed to. Peer pressure refers to “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them” (Merriam-Webster).
The American newspaper columnist and television commentator Clarence Page writes about peer pressure in the article Black Peer Pressure and 'Acting White':
There's nothing all that extraordinary, really, about kids ridiculing or ostracizing other students for making good grades, but it takes on a disturbing and tragic cast in the black community. When our kids put down their peers for allegedly, quote, "acting white" if they pick up a book or talking white if they use good English. It's disturbing because African-Americans have enough handicaps in the world without adding more of our own making.”
Teens belonging to ethnic minorities seem to be particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, but anybody can experience it at some stages in their lives and be harmed by it, especially as children or teenagers.
Talking about peer pressure
In what way can friends negatively influence each other?
Why are teenagers especially vulnerable to peer pressure?
What strategies can we use to avoid or resist negative peer pressure?
See also the following websites for some tips:
Students can rate the usefulness of the tips.
The following video by ReachOut.com Australia, an organization that provides targeted tools for young people, also provides useful information in this respect:
How to deal with peer pressure