On Reading and Pondering Deeply

Freedom Friday, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

Second Sokkai Gakkai president Josei Toda urged young people to read good books and to ponder things deeply. Even though Toda died in 1958, this advice is relevant today and is great encouragement for everyone. And, in fact, is a way to stay youthful despite your physical age.

What makes a book “good” to begin with? Is it informative? Inspirational? Energizing? Does it make you see things differently? Laugh? Perhaps good books do all of these things. Perhaps something else entirely.

books-158066_640A good book enriches me. It nourishes me in some way. A good books speaks to me, even if it’s a psychological thriller with a love story at its center.

A good book is not only worth reading, it is worth rereading. You come to it again to unlock new lessons, discover new images, uncover subtle nuances. It may touch you differently because of who you are this year, or what happened to you last season. Or because you’re finally ready to deal with that twenty-year old trauma. But sometimes you just want to check in on your favorite characters and reminisce about old times.

As for pondering deeply, many  refuse ponder at all, much less deeply. Social media platforms are filled with incoherent ramblings from knee-jerk reactions to hearsay. Some who claim to have researched a hot-button issue have limited their reading to the title of click-bait, which is designed to be sensational rather than informative.

Pondering is slow. Much slower than the skim-swipe-share culture of today. It requires one to engage with one’s brain and with a variety of ideas.

Pondering is dialogue, not declaration.

It is inquiry rather than assumption.

It is research and reflection, not regurgitation.

I wonder if in 2015 we can slow down, read good books and ponder things deeply. Let’s engage each other in conversations (on social media and in real life) grounded in wisdom, thoughtfulness, and respect for diverse views.

Tiger Eyes

Personal Narrative

My Goodreads feed has seen a lot of action lately. In recent weeks I’ve finished The Good House by Tananarive Due, Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older, and Freeman by Leonard Pitts. These represent a pretty significant departure from the type of fiction I usually read, yet I enjoyed them all.

1981 Tiger Eyes cover artNow I am on to Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. I thought I had read all of her juvenile/YA fiction growing up, but somehow I missed this offering. These days I’m “reading like a writer,” meaning I’m paying more attention to the structure and craft of the writing I read.

Although I’m not very far into the book, I was swept into the action on page one. There’s a reason I devoured Judy’s books growing up. What I notice and appreciate in these opening pages is Judy’s clear, direct and economical style of storytelling. I’m not getting lost in a huge cast of characters or a sprawling universe. I’m learning about and empathizing with Davey. Period.

I’m doing a lot of reading these days because one, I love a good book, and two, because I’m working my way through new ideas for short stories and novels. These stories provide inspiration, clarity and craft lessons.

Do you have some time to read this summer? What’s on your summer reading list?

What are your must-reads?

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April

The ladies of Whiskey, Wine and Moonshine have books on the brain. We may share some of our recent convos on an upcoming podcast. In the meantime, I want to know your thoughts about books. For all questions, you can choose more than one.

  • Who is your favorite author?
  • What’s your favorite children’s book?
  • What’s your favorite book? What makes it special?
  • What book did you read that you wish you’d encountered earlier in life? How did you come to read it?
  • What book would you recommend to someone? What makes it worthy?
  • What notable book did you try reading, but abandoned?
  • What book is on your “to read” list?
  • Complete the following sentence: {Insert name of book} should be required reading for {insert individual or group} because (insert reason}.

 

It’s probably not fair of me to ask these questions without sharing some of the answers, and I may reveal my thoughts in a future post.  For now I want to hear from you! The floor is yours…

Dereliction and Fire

Text Talk

Narrative of Frederick DouglassI debated the merits of crafting a preamble to this excerpt, and as I begin typing, I honestly haven’t decided what to say about it. So we’ll see…

I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Early on in my reading, I became angry. I graduated from a high school named after this man. We did not read his words. At various points, teachers or administrators recited quotes of his, or summarized the “highlights” of his life. Our mascot, school paper and yearbook were all symbolic of him. But we did not read his words.

We did not spend time in an English class, nor a history class, nor an extracurricular making sense of his life. Glaring omission seems too quiet, too meek, too gray to describe it. Dereliction of duty is how I framed it in a brief note of complaint to a friend. And perhaps it was our fault, incurious teenagers that we were, we didn’t seek him out on our own accord.

I don’t know why it was not mandatory for incoming freshmen at the very least. Not just to find out more about Douglass as a historical figure, but also to help us begin to understand his fire to free both his mind and body. For him, the two were interconnected in ways that may not seem as obvious now. But we needed that. We need that.

I don’t know whether its apathy or rebellion, but it seems the fire has gone out in many quarters. Whether we blame government mandates, institutionalized oppressions, our families, ourselves, somehow we must at least acknowledge that smoldering embers and cooling ashes are often found where fires once roared.

I have more to say on the matter, but for now let us read his words:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ʺIf you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master‐‐to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,ʺ said he, ʺif you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty‐‐to wit, the white manʹs power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

~Frederick Douglass

We Wear the Mask | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Education, Politics, News & Notable

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
~Paul Lawrence Dunbar

I sit down with two other women present for the two-day workshop. We are instructional coaches – former classroom teachers – in Orlando for professional development in literacy. Our conversation drifts to “the kid.” Who was the kid? The one who was the pivotal in your career? Lillian tells of two, beginning with ‘Eric.’

That kid was always grumpy. On edge. He was likely to pick a fight or get in trouble for some reason or another. It wasn’t long before I discovered he simply couldn’t read very well.

She explains to us how she won him over through small, daily successes. She was blown away by how sweet this boy was, hidden underneath an angry, defensive exterior.

Then she tells us of ‘John.’

John was a bit more outspoken in his dislike of the school environment. Not only vocal, but also physically violent at times. He required restraints if triggered. Educators who provide special education services would recognize his EBD label.

One day was particularly bad. He began shouting. Raging. I had to grab him and bodily place him in the time out space. He demanded to get out but he couldn’t.

A plank stood between him and freedom, with the teacher’s body pressed against it. Just in case. When yelling didn’t work, he threw himself again and again against the door, determined to force it open through sheer will.

I, on the other side, barely 100 pounds, I mean look at me even now, body against the door, praying it remained shut until he calmed down. Items sailed over the top of the door. Shoes, socks, pants. He was stripping, maybe this could buy his freedom. When that didn’t work, suddenly it was splat, splat against the wall. You can imagine what he was throwing (feces). But that kid is the reason I went back to school for a master’s degree. In the end, it was all a mask.

He, just like Eric, was wearing a mask. Neither one of them could read. Here they were – middle and high schoolers – angry they couldn’t read and scared to be found out.

Many classroom teachers can pinpoint students who were angry, or otherwise picked fights with the other students for the express purpose of getting thrown out of class. Trouble was their mask, hiding their inability to read.

These masks, along with zero tolerance policies, and cultural disconnects between students and school, contribute to the school to prison pipeline. How can we discover these masks earlier? When will we develop policies and curricula that make it safe for students to discard their masks? Can we create a system that alleviates the need for masks at all?

I remain hopeful, but hope, in and of itself, is not a strategy.