Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Danger of a Single Story

We make up stories about people and ourselves all of the time. We see people in the halls or in the cafeteria or on the street or at the store. And sometimes we think, I know that person--that type of person. You may think: I know her type; I know him.

This summer you, my students, have read stories about at least two different kinds of people. Everyone read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. all read Arnold Spirit’s story about growing up on a reservation. You read about Arnold’s fears and disappointments, about his passions and joy. You read about his struggle and the struggles of Native Americans living on reservations. Arnold’s story shifts when he decides to leave his community to attend a better school in Reardon; it is not an easy shift. Like Arnold, you learn about the people in Reardon-- perhaps some of the characters reminded you of people in our own school community.

This summer you  also read someone else’s story. You may have read a story about a girl: Lily Casey Smith, Michaela DePrince or Margarita Engle. You may have read a story about a boy: Ismael Beah, Carlos Eire, Shin Dong-hyuk, Michael Kraus or Jin Wang. Did you feel you knew them before you started the books? How did your understanding of their stories shift as their memories shaped themselves in your minds' eyes? I wonder.

In the real world, in the world of crowded hallways and busy classrooms, that kind of quick-glance knowing is judgment. We judge the kid walking down the hall with a sag in his pants. We judge the teacher who dresses a certain way. We make assumptions about the boys who wear jerseys or jeans or cheer leading uniforms. That kind of knowing kills people.

It kills students on campuses who feel victimized by bullies. It kills motivation. It kills empathy. It killed forty-nine people in Orlando just this summer.

This year, more than anything else, I want you to recognize the danger of a single story and change it. I want you to reach out to people you may not know and get them talking, get them sharing their stories. I want you to swim in the soup of inquiry--to open your minds to the stories of others and share in their experiences in ways that connect you to your humanity, to the best and brightest places in your hearts.

You may have heard things about each other. You may have heard things about your teachers. You may have even heard things about me. There is danger in what you accept as truth.  Know for yourself.

This year, learn for yourself. Get to know each other, your teachers, me and other people for yourself.

Listen to others’ stories. I want that for you and I want it for the adults in your lives too. I want it for your parents and for the teachers in our school and for the administrators on our campus.

So, help me out with this. Be on the lookout for narrative. Ask. Listen. Learn from peoples' stories so that you can truly get to know people for who they are and what they stand for.

We are all unique. We are all beautifully complex. We were all created for this world to do something or say something that only we can do. We each have a unique mission. All of us can face down  hate and judgement with knowledge and love.

United we are unstoppable.

United we are a team, a community learning acceptance together. This year in English will focus on developing your skills as readers, writers, thinkers and speakers--sure it will. But it will also be about people, about stories, about acceptance and love.

We are starting our third week, but I know, we are going to have a great year together. I love having you in my class.