Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Troubling the Narratives


School (Reilly)


I.

In the recent issue of Horn Book, Christopher Myers, writes about the importance of story (Young Dreamers). Myers writes:

Literature is a place for imagination and intellect, for stretching the boundaries of our own narrow lives, for contextualizing the facts of our nonfictions within constellations of understanding that we would not be able to experience from the ground, for bringing our dreams and fictions into detail, clarity, and focus. '
Myers is commenting on the value of literature to disrupt misinformed beliefs about self and other...To broaden narrow understandings.   He wonders:
if the man who killed Trayvon Martin had read A Snowy Day as a kid, would it have been as easy for him to see a seventeen-year-old in a hoodie, pockets full of rainbow candies and sweet tea, as a threat? What might have been different if images of round-headed Peter and his red hood and his snow angels were already dancing in his head?
Against such value, Myers tells us that children's book authors of color are sorely underrepresented.  In 2012 about 5% of the 5000 published children's books were authored by people of color as reported by CCBC. The likelihood of classrooms stocked with such books becomes increasingly less likely.

As a visual artist and writer, Myers tells us that his job is:
To make images, to tell stories, to trouble the narratives that pervade so many people’s secret hearts and minds. 
I love that: trouble the narratives and I wonder if that responsibility doesn't extend beyond the writer, the artist. Don't all of us need to trouble those waters? How representative are the classrooms where you work? How can children learn to trouble the narratives they have been taught, if the very books they are fed fail to broaden, deepen, and complicate their lives?

II.

My friend Jane Gangi is all about troubling narratives, such as the CCSS that informs text selection and reading method in an enormous number of schools in the US. With its easy formulas aimed at diminishing the amount of "permitted" literature to be read at school, while increasing the percentage of informational texts to be read-- and its exceedingly (and embarrassingly) poor selection of text exemplars that continue to privilege the stories of the privileged, I can't help but wonder if this combination won't limit the in class possibility to see *other* depicted in books as beautiful, not threatening.  Lessen the stories read alongside the exemplars to be read and we see power is maintained, not troubled. 

Jane has been outspoken on these matters.  She and the college students she teaches have been busy all spring, putting together a new collection of exemplars that is far more representative for those who remain in charge of the CCSS who recognized the narrowness of the original list.  Look for that new set of exemplars in fall.   Its a step in a better direction, and one that I hope will help curriculum developers, principals, and teachers to make better informed and inclusive book decisions about texts in classrooms. 

Literature is an aesthetic act (unless we reduce it to information retrieval) that we embody.  Through engagements with stories, especially those that help us to become (other)wise and in doing so to trouble the narratives we hold as truths. 








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