Holy cow. I just got home from nErDCampMI and let me tell you, I am riding on cloud nine right now! Such an incredibly motivating, exciting, and reflective experience for educators. This is sure to be the first of several blog posts inspired by the two days I’ve just had as there are countless messages I have swirling in my mind to reflect on. This particular thought hit me at the very end of my car ride home…
We heard and questioned and shared so much about literature during this conference, and one of the prominent topics was making sure our students, ALL our students, have access to books where they can find themselves. Important. Moving. TRUE.
As this topic was brought up in several different panels, I nodded in agreement, began adding book suggestions to my Amazon cart, and thought of the ways I would definitely be able to improve in this aspect with my sixth graders next year. The call to action echoed by my literacy mentors was sinking in, and I was responding how educators often do—by making and executing a plan.
What happened after making my plan is what makes me emotional as I sit here and write this. I thought of my own reading life, my own school experience, and the difficulty I went through during my middle school years. I remembered just how difficult some days were, and how tough it was to go to school knowing what was waiting for me. I regressed to that awkward, nerdy girl who knew the answer to my teacher’s question, but was afraid to raise my hand and share. I fell back into that classroom where comments were made under the breath of the girls sitting near me and notes were passed just blatantly enough so I could see it. I was there again, being called a know-it-all simply because I was excited to participate out loud when I felt I had something to say. I was excluded and avoided for being the “teacher’s pet” because I sought out feedback or help.
And then I found Hermione.
Like so many people my age, Harry Potter is my favorite series. It is the only series I will re-read still to this day, and each time I find new meaning in the words. But I also remember just how important this story was for me when I needed it.
Hermione Granger, as I’m sure all of you know, is FIERCE. She is strong, confident, and smart. But more than that, she does not shy away from being herself. She’s sure of herself, even when she gets looked down on, excluded, and mocked for her classroom presence. Man did I identify with that girl. I saw myself in her. I felt her tears when her peers poked at her insecurities, her shame at being ridiculed by teachers and sneered at by classmates, and the complete deflatedness at being referred to as a know-it-all.
But what’s more is that I also felt her strength. I felt her confidence and her stubborn refusal to allow others to stifle her passion for learning. I found myself in her and was able to overcome many of the difficulties I faced for being loud, passionate, and excited about school.
What I’ve realized today is how fortunate I am to have had this experience. I lost myself in the pages of this book and was able to identify so closely with an incredible character. Not all kids are that lucky. They aren’t represented in literature because of their differences, whether that be their race, religion, home life, sexuality, gender identity, family dynamic, or what have you. They don’t find a way to cope through books because there just aren’t books out there to help them do so.
What’s even worse and more heartbreaking to me, is that there’s been a movement in literature to actively represent kids who embody multitudes of experience and there are people fighting it. There are books removed from shelves, deemed inappropriate, taken away, banned… and why? Because they’re too real? Too damning against society? Too uncomfortable?
The bottom line is this. Our kids need books they can see themselves in. Need them. They deserve the opportunity to find who they are, cope with hardships, get lost in words… regardless of their experiences, race, religion, sexuality, or gender identity. Who are we to deem their lives as inappropriate?
The world is not censored. The experiences of so many of our kids are not censored. They are raw, traumatic, violent, emotional, scarring, and real. We have to provide our kids with the literature that they need, regardless of how hard the conversation might be afterwards—and there must be a conversation. It won’t be an easy one and it certainly won’t be comfortable for us. But as Chad Everett said at a session at NerdCamp… it’s time for us to sit in our discomfort. And it is our duty privilege to guide our students through some of that discomfort, listen to them, value them as they are, encourage them, and help them grow. We get to do that.
We have to fight for our students to have the books that they need. We have to make sure that those books are there, that we provide them, that we gently usher our students toward them. And as I reflect on this moving experience I’ve just left, I can’t wait to help my kids find their Hermione.