As you all know, my less than beloved alma mater is Duke. One program Duke has that I do love is its freshman Summer Reading program. A mentor e-mailed me about it, and I ended up writing a version of what is below. I have rhapsodized about Just Mercy before, but I just finishedBetween the World and Mewith my book club. The conversation that book sparked amongst my colleagues of Indian, Indonesian and Filipino, White American, and Black American (yours truly) strengthened and excited me.
Here’s what I wrote:
As a current secondary teacher, I highly recommend Just Mercy and Between the World and Me for the Class of 2020 summer reading. In light of national conversations surrounding police brutality, the prison industrial complex and the Black Lives Matter movement, Just Mercy provides a searing history about our nation’s warped judicial system. Stevenson elegantly develops an argument that showcases how what is supposed to be an objective court system unduly punishes people of color and the indigent. Stevenson also has a famous TED talk linked to Just Mercy that can be shared with incoming students.
While Just Mercy presents a controversial argument in a calm, clear manner, Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t even attempt to hide his anger at a system that seems intent on destroying the Black Body. Without a doubt, Coates’ book would make a lot of people uncomfortable if only for the righteous rage. His writing is unsparing and absolutely beautiful; quite frankly, as tired as I am of trying to explain micro and macro aggressions to people who hear but don’t want to listen, I’m all for a book that makes people uncomfortable and isn’t always “polite.” I truly believe Duke needs more uncomfortable conversations too. I am excited about these final options, and I look forward to seeing what Duke selects.
One of my first college memories is all wrapped up in Maya Angelou. She used to speak to the freshmen at my school every year once school began.
I heard her twice.
We would cram into the chapel big enough to fit hundreds, if not a thousand people, and be mesmerized by her fame, her voice, her. It was Maya Angelou!
A group of us once waited outside the chapel hoping to have a brief conversation with her before she headed to her car. It didn’t happen (I’m telling you, I shamelessly fit the stereotype of a groupie when it comes to writers).
I won’t pretend that Dr. Angelou was a woman who revolutionized my life or greatly inspired my writing.
That being said, I have to give honor and respect to any person born black, female, and Southern at a time when that spelled death before it spelled human and rose to as great of heights as she did. I feel as if it’s almost sacrilegious to say something bad about her (like it is when people speak about MLK, Jr.). That in and of itself is saying something.
I read two of her memoirs and a few pages of a third book. Today, after reading the news of her death, all I could think is that Oprah must be sitting somewhere crying right now.
One of my most popular posts is the one titled “Books That Changed My Teaching Practice.” While cleaning out my childhood bedroom, I finally dug out the book whose title escaped me when I first published the post. The book that convinced me to keep portfolios and use the 6-traits Writing Rubric is called Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools by Jim Blasingame and John H. Bushman. I hope it’s a help to other educators like it was to me.
My first teaching job was a torturous timenightmare growing experience. While in the midst of growing, a colleague lent me the first book that would impact my teaching style. Now (five years later), a few weeks before school starts back up I try to read one book related to education as a way to 1.) get me back in the “school” mindset and 2.) improve my practice. The one year I did not read a book I felt off. Guess what issue I struggled with the most during my first year of teaching?