The 57 Bus. This Is America. The Hate U Give. Joyner Lucas.
These are just a few of the perspective-shifting, heart-wrenching, incredibly powerful stories that have been shared with me lately and I wanted to share them with you. The first and last are probably less well known than the middle two (at least in main-stream media) but the social commentary is no less poignant and powerful.
The 57 Bus - A True Story by Dashka Slater. Oh man, this book was such a great read. Written like fiction but pieced together from actual events, The 57 Bus retells the story of two teens living in Oakland, CA; two teens whose lives might otherwise never have crossed paths save for one fateful day on the #57 bus. Using personal accounts, court documents and interviews, Slater retells a story of gender identity, race, justice and truth. Material that many would consider (and did consider) to be delicate, controversial and challenging is expertly handled by Slater, who weaves the story so richly that you instinctively feel for both parties and are left wondering what exactly defines justice.
This Is America - Childish Gambino. If you haven't seen this video, stop reading and hit play now. I have watched this video over and over again with many of my Gr. 8 students (yes, we turn a blind eye to the one, albeit pretty major, swear word; we talked about it, we know it's not school appropriate, we moved on) and have been amazed at their understandings of what it means. For context, I work with many at-risk boys who listen to a lot of rap and seem to idolize a lifestyle of expensive clothes, fast cars, guns and scantily clad women. I am always concerned about the messages their young minds are getting from the music they listen to, so hearing them dissect this video is really refreshing; they are thinking about the messages, a least a little bit! So many fascinating conversations have come from watching this video with them - thoughts about guns, race, the USA vs Canada, symbolism and more.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas. Hot on the heels of the previous two recommendations is this wonderful book. Stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of Tupac Shakur (whom my students LOVE), this book is also an important social commentary on controversial topics like race, gangs, white privilege, money and more. Thomas does a great job of bringing the neighbourhood and people of (fictional) Garden Heights to life, creating vivid images and feelings for the reader. Such rich discussion and perspective-taking can come from this book, wow.
Joyner Lucas - If you haven't heard of Joyner Lucas, you aren't alone. I was introduced to him after watching This Is America with a few of my students; one of the boys brought his videos up on the computer just after we finished watching This Is America. Turns out, these videos are very not school appropriate - consider yourself warned - but so powerful (to be clear, I went home and watched them by myself that night). Much like Tupac and other rappers, Joyner Lucas is a contradiction - his commercial rap is highly offensive but his social commentary is on point. When I asked my student how he had heard of the videos he said "Well, I like rap music and this is rap, so I just checked them out." I highly recommend the videos "I'm Not Racist" and "Frozen" for their social commentary. Be warned, however, that the language and content is very explicit so if that is difficult for you, you might choose not to watch; then again, you might want to challenge yourself to get a bit uncomfortable as a way to understand what he is rapping about. *Note - the video below is about car accidents and is pretty graphic; please consider your own experiences before watching.
When I first started blogging, it was to chronicle the creation of The Lit Pit (you can see those posts here and here). As the Lit Pit came in to being, my teaching partner at the time, Kristi, and I needed a guiding principle, our "why", as Kristi would regularly say. As we tossed around ideas and debated possibilities, we kept coming back to the idea that learning (in this case, reading in particular) should be joyful. We knew that the Lit Pit was not just a place to come to learn how to read, it was a place to come to learn to love to read. Sadly, we had many youngsters who did not want to read, did not think they could read and certainly were not choosing reading for fun; how did we turn their mindsets around? As educators, we knew that they needed the skills to read; as passionate readers, we knew they needed to love to read. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
We went back and forth so many times as to the "right" order for our mantra - Choose to, Learn to, Love to? Learn to, Love to, Choose to? Learn to, Choose to, Love to? Gah.
In the end we decided that there is no one right order. Each learner comes to this process in their own way and from their own starting point. My husband, for example, decided that he would really like to play the guitar sitting around the campfire on summer evenings. He had never played the guitar before so he did not have the love to or the learn to pieces in place yet; he was entering the "love to, learn to, choose to" cycle at the "choose to" and has been working on the "learn to" ever since. What is driving him to keep going, struggling through the "learn to" (which, thankfully, is fairly easy on the ears), is the idea that there is a "love to" at the end. He knows that playing the guitar well will be enjoyable so he's willing to put in the time and effort to get there.
Others, like most kids in school, enter the cycle at the "learn to" stage. There is nothing inherently wrong with entering the cycle at this stage; without exposure to new things, how would we even know if we wanted to try them? But, and this is a big but, unless that exposure engenders a small degree of interest, an idea that this will be enjoyable if I keep learning about it, that learning won't stick and certainly won't keep the learner coming back for more. Struggle for struggle's sake is no fun; struggle because you know that something will eventually be rewarding? Now that can be fun.
Without the "love to" learning falls flat. Without "love to" people never move from "choose to" to "learn to" and vice versa. As teachers, it's our job to share our passions with kids, to show them that learning can be joyful, that knowing how to do something well is the end result of a combination of passion and work, often really hard work. For a struggling student, who watches reading come easily to everyone else, passion is the thing that will keep them going. For a high-flyer, for whom everything comes easily, passion will save them from death by boredom. Passion is, perhaps, the great equalizer.
That's what this mantra is for - to remind us to keep "love to, learn to and choose to" as our goal. This is where we want kids to be, moving iteratively through this cycle, no matter where they start. We want kids to have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, for sure. In our quest for this, we sometimes forget to make it interesting, to make it fun, to have the end goal be "love to". So, today, in your classroom, pause for a minute and look around - are your students learning that this subject, this learning, can be fun? Where are they in the cycle of Love to, Learn to, Choose to? Are they going to choose to do this, whatever this is, later on today? What can you do to move all your students forward, no matter where they are in the cycle?
As always, I'd love to hear from you - comment below or on social media!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!