Listening, not relating

In the children’s literature courses that I teach, I ask students to consider the concept of books as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors”. I did not invent this analogy, that must be attributed to Rudine Sims-Bishop. I choose to use this as one framework for reading because it provides language for the students (and me) to talk about our responses to books.

Every time that I teach about children’s literature and reading, someone brings up the notion of “relating to a book.” For example:

  • I really couldn’t relate to this book, so I read it but it wasn’t interesting.
  • Because I couldn’t relate to the book I just wasn’t engaged.
  • Students need to be able to relate to everything they read.

This phenomenon of relating has been evident to me across institutions, undergraduate students, graduate students, experienced teachers, novice teachers, librarians, parents, formalized education contexts and informal. And no matter how often I hear it, it bothers me. It bothers me deeply. Sometimes I have to take deep breaths and count to 10 before I can respond.

Because here is the thing. If you think that the only way for you to engage with a book as a reader is for you to ‘relate’ to it, that is a huge problem. It is a huge problem because as humans, the world is not always about relating. We are NOT all the same. And giving yourself or your students permission to disengage because you can’t relate is irresponsible. It is irresponsible pedagogy and irresponsible human-ing.

I spent a good portion of my life thinking that part of my responsibility was making people comfortable. Not upsetting anyone by talking about things that might make them uncomfortable. I realize now, that is hugely problematic. Because that mentality asks 1)for me to anticipate everyone else’s comfort & discomfort (an impossible task) and 2) for me to place EVERY ONE else’s comfort and needs ahead of my own. I’m not ok with that. It took becoming the parent of two daughters for me to realize this, that and some really amazing people in my life.

Two things happened in the past 24 hours to shake me from my comfort. The comfort of creating this blog and then “belly-button gazing”. The first thing is that I have been listening to the audio book of Ta’Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It is read by the author. I finished it today, and I will start it again tomorrow. I will write more posts about it but right now, I need to listen.  I need to listen closely. I will listen over and over again. I will especially listen to the parts that make me uncomfortable in my own white skin.

The 2nd thing that happened is not my story to tell, it is the story of two friends. Two friends parenting a young son in middle school. A young son who is thoughtful and kind and so so so aware of the injustices in his school that are being allowed. Injustices that are happening because administrators “don’t want to upset anyone”. Here is the problem, that isn’t possible. My two friends initiated a conversation with administrators. A conversation that is so so important for every single student in the school, not just their son. They are having a conversation, even though it is taking more energy than it should because they want to yell and have every right to yell. At one point in my life, I would have though, “they are so brave”. That is BS. They are not brave. They are human and kind and they are not willing to place the discomfort of some ahead of the expense of any one. And the discomfort – that comes from a place of privilege.

And so here I am on day 4 of my new blog, putting in print – words on a page – publicly sharing, saying to you that I have spent the first few days being a good middle-class, white woman. I was not saying anything that might upset anyone. I was sharing my inner thoughts and ponderings because others might be able to relate to them and find comfort. I will still do that I’m sure. Because I am, in fact, a middle-class white woman. Because connecting with other people is at the core of who I am as a teacher and person. But that cannot be all I am. That is not I all I want to do in the world.

I can also push myself to say what I am thinking and pondering as I listen to stories and experiences that are not my own. I can share how I have learned to listen, REALLY listen and engage with experiences that I don’t relate to, because that isn’t always important. What is important to me now, is listening to experiences and stories and ideas that are not the same as my own. With the goal of listening and learning, not just relating.


Staying in touch…

Most of my closest friends do not live in the same town as I do. In fact, they all live at least an hour drive away. Some live more than 10 hours away. Some live as far away as the west coast. Others are in another county. These are people that know me in depth. Some I’ve known for over 25 year, others for 7 or 8. These are people who have seen me at my best and as I have struggled. These know me as an individual, as a parent, as a basketball fan, as a phonathon novice, as a brand new Ph.D. Student, as a faculty wife, as a children’s literature scholar, as a novice writer, as a person living with an anxiety disorder (pre- and post-diagnosis), as a transplant from another state, as a high school friend, as a teacher, as a neighbor, and so so so many other ways. 

These people are more than important to me. They are part of my story. 

So why is it then, that I am so terrible about staying in touch with them across the miles. It doesn’t matter if it is 100 miles or 1000. I am not great at long distance friendships. I think it’s because it makes me miss them more. That’s pretty selfish me though – especially considering they remain friends with me in spite of my failures. 

Thank you friends. I am going to do better. 

A New blog?!?

Why a new blog? More accurately, why another blog?

I still plan on blogging over at @ChildrensLitCrossroads but I wanted and needed a different space.

Live – it’s somewhat self evident that I am, in fact, living. But it’s also a reminder for myself.

Listen – I’ve been reflecting a lot on the importance of listening and also the many ways and places that I do it. Three areas I am particularly aware of this right now; as a parent, a teacher, and an ally.

Think – My thinking brain is a bit like a hamster on one of those exercise wheels. It just keeps going. I need a place to get some of the thinking out of my head. Not just to get it out, but also to share it with others.

Write – again, this may seem somewhat evident. I’ve spent the past seven years in a PhD program, learning how to write in “academic-ese”. (btw – there is nothing easy about it). But I have also been spending time trying to develop my own writing voice. Sometimes it is academic, and sometimes I want to write about life.

Other things I’ll write about:

  • teaching – I’m a teacher. It’s really hard for me to turn that off. Just ask my daughters – they can tell you all about “teacher-mommy”.
  • parenting – speaking of my daughters, I have two of them. They are 11 and 15 years old. They are amazing. I’m fortunate to share parenting with my husband of almost 20 years. Did I mention that they are 11 & 15? There is a lot to say about that.
  • learning – for me, part of being a good teacher and researcher means always learning. I love learning, even when it pushes me outside of my comfort zone. Well maybe not as much then.
  • reading – i blog about children’s and YA literature over on my other blog, but often it is as a scholar and professional. I read other stuff too, and sometimes I want to write about it.
  • etc – because there needs to be a catch all

Thank you for joining me on this journey…

Jumping in the Deep

When I was a kid, one of our favorite things to do in the summer was to jump off the raft. When we first got it, my sister and I paddled out on eager to plunge into the water. But then we got there. I remember looking down and thinking I wasn’t so sure I wanted to jump anymore. What had seemed like an exhilarating and excited idea suddenly seemed downright scary. It was difficult to see the bottom, I did not like that sensation at all. But it was hot (and we did not have air conditioning).

I know that eventually I jumped that day, and many more times over many summers. However I still do not like the feeling of not being able to see the bottom – either literally or figuratively. I get a similar sensation when I think about writing and even more so when I think about sharing my writing. I have blogged before, and will continue to over on my other blog Children’s Literature Crossroads. That blog is focused on my work as a children’s literature scholar and teacher educator. So why a new blog? Because over the past few months, I’ve been feeling the urge to write more broadly about life. I wear many “hats” as do many people. Mother, teacher, scholar, wife, friend, colleague, student, daughter. For much of my life, I tried to compartmentalize when I wore the different hats. The thing is, that doesn’t work. When I am teaching, I am still wearing the other hats. They may not be obvious to those around me, but I know they area there. Recently, I have been finding myself making those hats more explicit in interactions with other people and with myself. These interactions have resulted in lots of thinking.

Thinking in my head that I need to get out as words on a page. Thinking that I want to share with other people. I’ve been staring down and waiting to write, just like I stared over the edge of that raft. It’s time to jump.



Me, jumping into West Bay.