Fake Reading and Dreaming

Last summer I had the incredible opportunity to spend three days bunking with teacher friends in the dorms at St. Lawrence College and workshopping the days with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. They shared their new book, 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents, and we grew and felt entirely changed afterwards.

The inspiration began a process of change in me and sustaining it, practicing it, implementing it continues to challenge me. Although these three days last summer were pivotal, I am still struggling to shift my students from “fake reading” to real reading.

We are currently reading The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline and with each passage revisited, I gain more appreciation for the writing, for the message. Students have done close readings, have engaged in discussion groups, have used open questions to look at the craft of the writing, but still, I see them consulting online sources instead of relying on their own abilities and insights gained through reading. They are hunting for the answers from the voice of another. They don’t trust their own abilities to read.

The recognition of this coincidental hunting motif in the story and my own quest  to engage adolescents in real reading makes me smile, and I decide to bring as little with me on the journey so I can run through the forest of reading, hanging on to my ability to dream.

From Failing to #DisruptTexts

I’ve been following Tricia Ebarvia, Munah Saleh, Dr. Kim Parker, Shea Martin, Colinda Cline, Debbie Donsky, and many more who are speaking openly and courageously about inequities and the need for greater representation in education. There are many voices demanding diverse texts in classrooms, and I would like to think of myself as one among this group.

But my demands, my practice, and the reality of the bookroom at my school have left me feeling like a fraud, a failure.

Let me explain. After the “Hard Conversations” workshop at UofO and some reflective conversations at school w/ BIPOC students, I decided to critically analyse the bookroom; I wanted to upack and examine the voices and narratives which are being taught in English classes. I’ve only begun the preliminary work, but the findings shocked and motivated me.

I decided to share the unpacking on Twitter and wrote:

As I post these charts, I must recognize my part in creating bookrooms that look like this:

Count of Gender of Author

Count of Race of Author.png

 

As I process this stark reality and share with colleagues who will join me in this work to change the dominant White narratives, my podcast partner reminds me that I just purchased a class set of novels, Every Day by David Levithan – a White, male, American author.

Yup. I did.

And, I even back up to defend my actions pointing out that I was honouring a committment to the students in front of me – the students who overwhelmingly selected that novel over 11 other possible diverse texts.

I support student choice in reading, but for White students, this might mean reading the same voice, the dominant White voice, over and over again. This does nothing to create empathy for the marginalized. This does nothing to disrupt the dominant White voices.

And then it occurred to me. I’m trying to do two things at one time sacrificing one for the other. I’m trying to move teaching away from traditionally White cannonical texts to more modern texts, saccrificing the marginalized voices in the process. I’ve been failing to #DisruptTexts outside of my Indigenous Voices class. And THAT is why these types of courses are so necessary. Because we will choose the path that we have always known, students and teachers alike.

I proposed that we could take a revolutionary approach in our English classes and have one other course with all BIPOC voices, maybe all Black voices. Maybe in grade 10. But “maybe” isn’t enough, and I must recognize my part in creating classes that centre White voices,  and do something about it. I have to recognize the failure before I can move to genuine disruption knowing I have so much more to learn.