Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge--September
September. I reach the quotes I saved for the year that were more than phrases. I hold photocopies in my hands. The section heading read: And It Was Enough. But, what could possibly be with pages of history behind us and the number of blank sheets of paper still rationed unfairly today. I read on. One student in Wiesel’s class asks, “How can we, students with comfortable lives, really understand your experiences, much less pass them on to others?”
Berger extends the question, “Because memory is the secret ingredient that creates a morally transformative approach to learning, this question is vital. How does one educate toward memory? How can students become custodians of memories that are not their own?” (30).
And Professor Wiesel’s answer speaks to the work of education that not only informs but elicits an emotional reaction. His story in Berger’s book is four paragraphs long. It will serve as my Witness to a Year reference point to guide diverse book selection for the next two months. Wiesel’s retelling begins,
“When Rebbe Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, saw that the Jewish people were threatened by tragedy, he would go to a particular place in the forest where he lit a fire, recited a particular prayer, and the miracle was accomplished, averting the tragedy.
Later, when the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple the Maggid of Mezrich had to intervene with heaven for the same reason, he went to the same place in the forest, where he told the Master of the Universe that while he did not know how to light the fire, he could still recite the prayer, and again the miracle was accomplished. . .” (31).
But how do we pass things on? What are the guiding connectors? In this blog series I attempt unique groupings, not by continent, nor skin color, but other characteristics I hope may go deeper because of the choice necessary to claim a particular relevance.
September could have a myriad of open themes. Back to school, perhaps. School is where the stories someone decided matter most to the most are read aloud on money spent for ink and paper. But, I never really liked back to school. It took away the shine of my birthday.
My birthday is at the end of August. In recent years I claimed it as my new year, so disillusioned with the global celebration in January and what that was supposed to mean. September was a sort of new start or starting over, a new kind of old start. Still, in those same recent years, like wintry cold resolutions, I fell into the same traps laid by false ice across frozen lakes. Nothing stuck. Nothing seemed sweet. I keep looking.
Rosh Hashanah. One of my fascinations is storytelling through food. So I filled my friends’ pockets with candy and my own oven with apple cake for a sweet new year. Food. Peace. These are themes my colleagues and I used to group diverse books before. Sweet could be that same theme, if I hadn’t already paired it with bitter. Still, my recent appropriation of this holiday offers something else, the theme I settled on based on the Rebbe’s story. The idea of “Enough”. This section heading inspires hope, especially to me, someone who missed out on stories that could have belonged to me that death took away from me and then the people I would retell them too. This hope embedded in the Rebbe’s story means that the education for me is less outward and more inward. And it will be enough? I can hope.
Hope is not a strategy. A customer told me that once. I read it on wood crafted signs and magnets since then. It’s true. Hope is not a strategy, and while at first this might seem a phrase meant to deflate someone’s intensity of purpose. In fact, it is encouraging. It places the opportunity to both decide how to act and then follow through with that action as an individual or group. It means that while we cannot escape our environment and must work through it, we can see the work in front of us, versus waiting in the dark for what’s next. Moreover, the pressure that there is only one right path, one true narrative, one story to hear and to tell and to retell and to remember, is but the rotten spot on the apple cut away. The rest of the fruit mixes in with our individual tongues and the seeds fall away to be planted after.
All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island by Liza Jessie Peterson is a memoir in which Peterson narrates her first year teaching GED to incarcerated boys. Her search for a steady job to support her poetry/drama passion became eighteen years of the experiences she now wishes for her audience to understand and feel alongside the young boys behind bars. I relate to the frame of her experience in which hope is the other side of peace’s coin that when we toss it, we do not always get what we want, or call for, but we need.
Partnering with Parents to Ask the Right Questions. During interviews with community stakeholders, I saw this book in the hands of a Family Support Specialist. Who must hope the most, besides farmers and parents. The authors spent more than two decades researching in a wide range of low- and moderate-income communities. This book empowers educators and parents to work together to achieve their common goals. This text by Luz Santana, Dan Rothstein and Agnes Bain defines their strategy and then proceeds to provide case studies as examples for context within the classroom and the school as a whole, as well as with specific audiences such as parents of English Language Learners and parents who are estranged from the school experience for a variety of reasons. The explicit language and transparency of this book are the strings behind the curtain of hope in many ways.
I bought The Law of Love in an airport book store. The challenge for this year was to read diverse books. This book’s pages are each one a lesson in stretching your acceptance of “text”. Laura Esquivel employs a graphic novel told in the past and present and future accompanied with a music CD. The story follows a Mexican astroanalyst in the 23rd century searches her past lives for her lover, she encounters many adventures, including the fall of Montezuma and a plot by a reborn Mother Teresa to rule the planet. Who says hope lies entirely in any one point on the circle of time?
Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life
Spiced Honey Cake
Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin
Esquivel, Laura. (1997). The Law of Love. Random House: New York.
Peterson, Liza Jesse. (2017). All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Kids at
Rikers Island. Center Street: New York.
Santana, Luz, Rothstein, Dan and Agnes Bain. (2016). Partnering with Parents to Ask the Right
Questions. ASCD: Alexandria.