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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023

I was just thinking about book clubs. I’ve been in book clubs for much of my adult life. We’ve read from many genres from summer romances to gothic classics. We read biographies of entertainers and stories of nomadic ancient tribes. All of these titles expanded my mind and widened my horizons.

Isn’t that the goal of education? Yes, students have to learn multiplication facts, what an atom is, how to spell reasonably well, and acquire a rough timeline of major events in our country’s history. These are nuts and bolts things that we all need to get by and to have a chance at success. Language and math are the tools we use to make our way in the world. Once we have those tools we can move on to wherever we want. We all find some sort of niche in life.

Some become tax accountants in a suburb on New York. Another will act in movies, plays, and commercials. Still others will become digital nomads moving throughout the planet as they report their observations to us through their laptops. The world provides niches for highly specialized surgeons, all manner of construction workers, farmers tending their crops, and hair dressers in local towns around the world. Each one of these groups have their own set of skills and knowledge that they received through some form of education. I don’t think these people have a whole lot in common beyond standard human anatomy and the need for food, water, shelter, and air. No matter what life we choose or get sifted into, we didn’t end up in any life but our own. What a pity!

Personally, I can tell you how to manage a middle school classroom in urban New Jersey. I can recommend activities to teach kids how to read the periodic table, find a way to de-escalate a conflict over stealing a best friend on the playground, and manage six trays of lab materials that have to be used and restocked over six periods. But I, like all of us, am very limited. I will never know the intricacy of performing brain surgery, the sweat and accomplishment of building a bridge, the drudgery and importance of feeding a country, nor will I ever develop the sociability or color awareness needed to chat with clients as they mix a very specific hue of hair dye. In that isolation of experience and knowledge, we are all the same.

We only know what we know, and we all know very little. This is why education via books, movies, theater, TV shows, documentaries, and oral stories are so important. Education in any of its forms forges a channel of communication with people beyond our usual scope. I have never been a woman in a culture where women were segregated and denied political power, but I have a clue from reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I have never been Black, poor, or from the South, but I have a glimmer of understanding from reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I have never been much of a celebrity fan, but I was introduced to a new world reading Slash: The Autobiography. By introducing stories into our psyche, in whatever format, we become connected to others who we have no access to. Stories put us in the shoes of kitchen maids, computer hackers, adventurers, news anchors, and boardwalk psychics. Stories connect us to all sorts of other humans, and somewhere someone is being connected to us. Stories give us a mental map of places, people, and ways of being. They expand our awareness of all the ways to exist as a human.

Once we have this mental map, this information, it can open doors. Once I read about a place I become curious and I want to travel there. When I read I have questions and I start researching and reading more. Knowing more leads to better understanding, tolerance, and love. Every book opens a door to a new way of being.

As teachers, we have the ability to connect our students to the world. When we tell stories about the lives of scientists, war heroes, movie stars, athletes, camping, landmarks, or even personal stories of what things were like when we were kids, or our trip to Hawaii, or how we worked on a farm in high school, we are helping our students forge connections. Yes, we have a curriculum to teach, but whenever you can interject a story, do so. You will be opening a door.

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