Saturday, March 12, 2016

Day 12: #SOL16- Windows, Mirrors, and Multiple Stories

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I finished reading Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian this morning. This book has been on my reading list for a long time--years, actually. I didn't pay attention to what it was about. I only knew my daughters had liked it when it was on a summer reading list, and it resurfaced when my writing mentors talked about it during a seminar. 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about a teenage Spokane Indian who decides to leave the high school of his reservation and attend an almost all white high school outside of the reservoir. The narrator, Arnold "Junior" Spirit, shares experiences and emotions as he lives through bullying, rejection, isolation, abandonment, and failure. He also demonstrates courage, bravery, humor, acceptance, perseverance, and resilience. 

Because I am living and breathing an important racial issue in my own daughter's high school which I blogged about in a post on Wednesday, I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with a different lens than I would have read it with last week. Basketball plays an important role in Arnold's life, as it did in the events between Capital Prep and Farmington High School. Through Arnold's experience, readers have windows into his emotions, but I also read Arnold's account looking for mirrors to hold up. Windows and mirrors are a powerful way of thinking for me as I contemplate literature. Rudine Sims Bishop is credited for naming these ideas in her essay, and Katie Cunningham wrote a beautiful post about the concept here. I highly recommend taking the time to read this post if you haven't already. She writes:
 "When we open a book and start to read a story, we use our imaginations to walk through whatever world the author has created. Children’s literature is full of stories about boys and girls that look like my children. Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms mirror books and window books to describe how we both see ourselves and see others when we read literature."
I wonder about not only finding mirrors and windows in our reading lives, but also in our daily lives. The boys who began the SAT chant were not the ones who scored well on those tests. One of the boys lives in a lovely home, wears nice clothes, has a car, and has a dad who shows up at events with alcohol on his breath. They fight a lot. Another one of the boys has several siblings, a dad who rarely sees him, and a mom who works really hard. School isn't easy for either one of them. Maybe a window would be important for these boys so they can begin to understand how lives are different for urban children, but maybe mirrors are important too. They may find similarities as well as differences.

I have so many complex thoughts about the racial SAT chant and the subsequent fall-out, that I'm sure my writing isn't clear right now. It's a classic example of using writing to process and try to figure out reactions, reasons, rhymes, and responses. The story was on the front cover of the Hartford Courant again this morning, but this time with a more healing slant. An FHS student apologized to a CP student when the were attending a production of Romeo and Juliet together. (I can't make this up.) Just a a few students started a hateful chant, a few students initiated apologies and forgiveness.

 "That's not a proper representation of Farmington High School," a student is quoted as saying. "I like to think we're a very accepting school of tolerant people. I don't think that's us."

Chimamanda Adichie's brilliant TedTalk, The Danger of a Single Story, comes to mind. Christina Tschida, Caitlin Ryan, and Anne Swenson Ticknor wrote an incredible article connecting windows and mirrors to single stories within literature, challenging educators to think about the curriculum they teach and create and how it promotes (or doesn't advance) social equity.

Windows, mirrors, single stories. Somehow, we have to influence and inspire people around us to look for windows, mirrors, and multiple--not single-- stories not only in literature, but also in life.

So much to think about, and more to come.


  1. Melanie, I so appreciate your thoughts and sharing on this experience in your town. It makes all of us think more deeply.

  2. I too want to thank you for continuing to share what has happened, and your own learning and thoughts, Melanie. I don't know about that last "multiple stories" article, so will go right to it to read. I wrote about an entirely different thing today, as you know, but it is still about perspective, and the search we need to make for the broader view. Best wishes for both schools to come together more positively.

  3. Clearly, you recognize that your school has arrived at a moment ripe for conversation and change. But that's true of us as a nation, too. These issues are everywhere, and I think the Republican primaries have only stoked the fires. Sad times, we live in.

  4. Clearly, you recognize that your school has arrived at a moment ripe for conversation and change. But that's true of us as a nation, too. These issues are everywhere, and I think the Republican primaries have only stoked the fires. Sad times, we live in.