Things I Know 77 of 365: What we read makes who we are and what we do

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

– Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

To mark AOL’s consumption of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington announced Monday that “AOLers and HuffPosters (who are now AOLers!) will be volunteering in their local communities” as part of a 30-Day Service Challenge.

Aside from being a good public relations move, it’s also good work. No matter one’s political leanings, jumping in and helping the rest of humanity is a good idea.

I used to teach with a science teacher who had completed a fellowship during which she attempted a different job each week for 52 weeks. At the end of the year, she’d done it all – including her personal favorite, learning to drive an 18-wheeler.

She walked through life with a different and deeper understanding of the people with whom she interacted.

She had taken Atticus Finch’s advice and walked in the skin of others.

This gets toward the heart of why I want so badly for my students to connect with books and be more thoughtful about what they view. These stories, mostly fictitious, provide moments of connection and portrayed experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I want my students digging deeply into texts because the more they read, the more they will archive. Their brains will become rife with archives of the “what ifs” of all the plots and characters they encounter. And this, this will prepare them for those moments when they are up against odds unknown or come face-to-face with someone diametrically contrary to who they are.

I grew up in a small town of 250 people. My school was in the next town over and educated just under 400 students. While each of us was an individual, the world our interactions created was nothing compared to the complexity of life for my students in Philadelphia or Sarasota.

While I can’t deny thoughtful parenting was the largest preparation I received for the world beyond Cantrall, IL, it was the books, television shows and movies I read that picked up where my family’s experiences left off.

Nothing can replace the actual experience of mucking in as the “AOLers and HuffPosters” are and my former colleague did. Reading, though, can serve as the primer in the absence of the physical experience – the original virtual reality.

Starting next week, my students will be spending dedicated class time on change.org. Launched in 2007, the site both raises awareness of acts of injustice and calls on readers to take action as well by signing petitions or contacting government leaders. I cannot provide my students with exactly what they will need for every possible eventuality they might face. Absent that ability, I can help them build connections with texts, read those texts closely and then ask questions about how what they can do in relation to what they’ve just read.

My mom likes to tell the story of the first time she read me a children’s biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m not sure of my age, but know I was still in the realm of footy pajamas. As my mother tells it, we’d finished reading the section explaining racism and it affected me deeply.

“You were pacing back and forth yelling, ‘That’s wrong, mommy! That’s just wrong!’”

Though the texts my students or I encounter may not always draw on themes as clearly unjust as racism, both they and I are missing the story if we’re not looking at how the characters are treating one another and how we see ourselves in the pages or scenes of what we’re reading.

One thought on “Things I Know 77 of 365: What we read makes who we are and what we do

  1. This is my first time visiting your blog which I found through Lehmann's, but from what I've read so far, I will surely keep visiting often. You are saying A LOT – wisdom with sociopolitical, pedagogical, existential (and I could keep going) contexts. My own experiences with reading agree. Almost after every book I read, I am inspired by or learn some new ideology. Whether there's lasting effects on my personality depends, but I always gain some new insight about the world or life. This also goes for music, movies, and really anything that communicates to me feelings and thoughts, all will help me learn in some manner. This makes me think that I should read more literature about change and taking action. If I'm so easily inspired by what I read, I think a good book could possibly push me in the direction I've been yearning to go, but have either been too indecisive or afraid of the leadership/responsibility. Lastly, sounds great what you are doing with your students. As a student teacher there are many things I could learn from you and apply to math classes. Look forward to seeing you at SLA.-Brendan McGeehanP.S. Any suggestions on good reading material?

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