My students are members of a tightly knit little community where Friday night football and basketball games are everything, little victories are celebrated in big ways, and the community rallies together in both good times and bad. The majority of these kids have known each other since kindergarten. Their parents and grandparents went to school together. Not many of them have traveled outside of a two hundred mile radius, let alone abroad. The culture of the community is firmly rooted in tradition and family.
My students are growing up in this tiny corner of the world, but they are hungry for more than what this little place can offer.
Little communities like this are safe and secure, but they are often not terribly diverse. My students are eager to know more about the world outside of our little town and the kinds of people who live in these worlds. The best way that I can provide that for them is by putting books in their hands that will allow them to experience life through another person's eyes.
In light of recent events in the U.S., I have decided that I would like to use the topics of identity, diversity, and acceptance to ground our literature studies this year. In particular, we will focus on three essential questions: In a culture where we are bombarded with ideas and images of “what we should be,” how does one form an identity that remains true and authentic for her/himself? How are people transformed through their relationships with others? How might becoming aware of the world around us (especially in our classrooms), and how every person is different, affect how we treat people?
The donations for this project will improve the lives of my students by putting books in their hands that will help them cultivate empathy for other people.
Research clearly shows that the study of literary fiction improves a reader's capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. The characters of these novels are diverse. Auggie was born with a facial deformity; Hannah was severely bullied by her peers; Steve is an African-American kid who is facing twenty-five to life for a crime he may not have committed; Lani is a social enigma who is the victim of a homophobic witch hunt; Stargirl is an eccentric homeschooled girl; Junior is a Native American teenager who decides to go to an all-white public school; Christopher has an autism spectrum disorder; Butter is a morbidly obese teenager; and Caitlin has Asperger syndrome. Experiencing life through the eyes of these characters is something I think will be extremely valuable to my students.
From a practical standpoint, we will be studying these novels in literature circles, allowing students to form groups of no more than six who will study the novel together and ultimately share with others what they have learned.
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