Sunday, September 2, 2012

What do books teach us?

In Colby Sharp’s now nearly infamous video where he discusses books with his class he makes the following comment:

…Because reading is awesome! It can take us to other places. Every book I read will make me a better person, and if it doesn’t, it’s not a good book. 

I love that. I don’t intentionally open books wondering what they will teach me, but I know I am changed once I’ve read an excellent book. My students are already learning this through the book Wonder – how we treat each other matters. But all books have messages intertwined in their stories.

Today I’m rereading a favorite – Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson for the Schu-Sharp book club this Wednesday on Twitter (7pm Central. Use #HattieBigSky to follow the chat.) When I was reading this afternoon I came across this quote:

I thought about all the fences that get built in this world – the ones that divide folks and tear them up, like the actions of the Kaiser and his henchmen, and the ones that bring folks closer together, like this stretch of fence Karl Muller had built for me.

“Plug.” I patted the old horse. “It’s like I wrote to Charlie. This world is surely a puzzle. I wonder how old I’ll be before I get it all figured out.”
Page 80

I’m thirty-eight and I still don’t have this world figured out. Reading Hattie Big Sky I learned how horrible we treated people of German nationality in our country during World War I. I know when I was a history major I always said that the reason we study history is to learn from our mistakes. But I know from my husband’s step-mother that during World War II we hadn’t learned, and all of the Japanese people in the internment camps would back me on that one. (She and her family were moved to one.)

I am sure it is fear that drives us to these actions, but that cannot excuse them. I’ve always been taught that we all have more similarities than differences. I truly think if we looked at each other looking for what we have in common, the world would be a different place. But looking at my Facebook feed in the weeks leading up to the election saddens me. So much negativity, name calling, and ugliness. It’s hard to separate that from people whom I normally have a great deal of respect for.

This is not what I treat my students. I teach respect for each other, even when we disagree along with the idea that we come together to solve our problems. As adults it seems that our country, our world, are more interested in pointing fingers. Why? I know when President Obama was elected in 2008 I had a student in tears the next day. His parents hadn’t voted for him and now what would he do? My answer was that I didn’t always vote for the politician who ultimately “won” the seat. Regardless, they were now my president (or my senator, governor, etc.) and I would hope they would do an amazing job because we all benefit from that.

And so in uncertain times, times that lead me to despair, I turn to books. They do calm me, give me a sense of peace, but also make me a better person. And when I come upon those magical books that change me from the inside out, I start talking about them - to my students, to my friends, to anyone who will stop and listen. If enough of us read them maybe we will all begin to be the change we wish to see in this world. Now, back to Hattie and her fence…