Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Right to Read: Censorship is Not the Answer, but Respectful, Compassionate Conversation Is

This past week, one of the authors of All American Boys, Brendan Kiely, sent out a tweet asking for teacher and student assistance:

Now, while there is nothing new about a "fear" that knowledge will bring, there is something uniquely depressing about each time it occurs. 

Below is the letter I sent in support [ed. slightly for length/audience]. May we all do all we can to continue to fight for literature, and the right to read. Especially with books so worth reading. 

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To whom it may concern,

As teachers of reading, but more importantly teachers of children - our job is to both provide mirrors and doors. Mirrors so that students find in school things that look like, sound like, and are identifiable as a what they know and do. And doors so that students can step outside of their comfort zone and engage with new ideas.

In the thousands of decisions we make as educators each day, they all somehow come back to this. Everything from warm-ups, to homework practices, to novels are chosen and selected with this in mind. We ask will this help our students better understand themselves and their world, can this serve as a mirror or a door?

Part of growing up, especially in this era of the selfie-generation is learning to think beyond our own experience, stepping outside of what we know to expand empathy, critical thinking, and curiosity. Novels, such as All American Boys, are one of the best possible ways to do this.

As award-winning author Katherine Patterson was once quoted, "It is not enough simply to teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations - something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own."

All American Boys is an incredible novel - with depth, purpose, engaging narrators and plot twists that force us all as readers to wrestle with ethics, justice and systematic racism. It, as Patterson says, helps readers make sense of their lives, and also begets empathy to those around them. As a country, we all could use to read this book and lean on it as a foundation to discuss hard truths and ask the tough questions. It has been recommended from word of mouth, teacher to teacher, with purpose and fervor. It has been highlighted multiple times in Nerdy Book Club (a educational book source by teachers, for teachers), NPR, and many other press organizations. As one student said in a teacher reflection, "“When reading this book, you will learn how to stand up for yourself. It makes you stronger.” (Vander)"

Do not fear the discussion, the honest, heartfelt, needed conversation this book brings. That means it's doing its job, that means it's good literature that will stand the test of time. All American Boys showcases multiple points of view, and can be used powerfully to see the inaccuracies and fragility of what comes with what we do not understand, or unfortunately understand all too well. Help students step through doors and be able to see themselves in the mirror of literature. Use this as a conversation piece to engage in the conversation, not to step away with fear.

With hope,

B. G.

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