Sunday, September 20, 2009

I've been ruminating on this hotly contested post a bit since yesterday, and here are some of my thoughts. While I completely agree that books by PoC need to reflect the complexity of their communities -- in other words, I would LOVE to read a fantasy novel by a South Asian woman (which is why I wrote one), or about class struggle within an Asian family (maybe kind of like a YA version of Free Food For Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee?) -- basically, writing that shows PoC in all our diverse experiences, without constantly being pigeon-holed into currently existing stereotypes would be lovely; what I disagree with, as a former teacher and educator (and current mentor), is steering Black students *away* from Black-authored books (and, therefore, away from potential Black role models), and *toward* White-authored books.

My question would be: why not have students read both, then do a compare and contrast? Or, have them read Black-authored books that are more in line with the White-authored books you've decided are better learning experiences? This would require more research, but it would show a willingness to enter into the students' world.

In all my teachers' training and workshops, I've learned that teaching or preaching AT is never effective. What IS effective, I've always been taught, is to go to where your students are and use that as your starting point. In the Eastern medical tradition, doctors are taught to "listen to your patients for the cure." In other words, it is not about what YOU think your students need -- it is about listening to what your students tell you they need.

When I was a teenager, in addition to Tuck Everlasting and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret and the novels of Paula Danziger, I inhaled the novels of S.E. Hinton. These were raw, gritty, very edgy stories peopled almost exclusively with white teenagers, and told from the perspective of young white males. And I completely identified with their experience--around the issue of class. I was relieved that I was not the only one who felt like an outsider (ahem--sorry, pun not intended). I would quite likely have flung myself off the nearest tall building if someone steered me away from stories where there were worlds like mine, and toward worlds that showed no reflection of my reality, whatsoever. But most importantly, that there were people out there like me (outsiders--sorry, again), who were writing stories and getting them published. THAT was what expanded my reality. THAT was what showed me worlds and adventures I could strive for -- ones that were realistic, and achievable and pointed me toward independence and personal strength.

Which is why I am heartened that by the end of her essay, Ms. Almagor writes,
"But I believe that the purpose of story is to help us explain our lives to ourselves; and these are the stories they are choosing . . . Go ahead and call me a hopelessly unliterary child person: if this is what my children choose to read, I have to entertain the possibility that this is what they need to be reading."
Brava to that!

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