How Book Love Combats Hate: featuring The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Updated: Jul 9
The tenet of the English teacher: read and write beside your students.
This year is my ninth year teaching high school English and my ninth year teaching ninth graders. It’s my year of the nine, I guess!
Confession: I have always struggled with the most basic tenet of the English teacher. How do I read and write beside my students? Modeling my work is hard! I am exposed! I am vulnerable! In the early years of my career I avoided it because I lacked the confidence. I think back to my more novice self and I laugh because I know I did the best I could, but I do wish I could call all of those ninth graders in my very first English classroom (who have graduated college by now!) and ask them for a mulligan! Can I get a re-do because I have learned so much!?
All joking aside, I made a goal last year to really begin to integrate my authentic self, my authentic passion into my classes. I truly accomplished this last year in the fourth quarter in both freshmen English and College writing where I modeled my own writing and reading processes. I felt this small intentional shift on my part caused me to have stronger, more “real” if you will, relationships with my students.
This year in my ninth grade English classes I decided to try and build on that experience with a little help from Penny Kittle. (If you haven’t read her book Book Love I highly recommend it!) Inspired by Book Love, each student is cultivating and curating his or her own reading life throughout the school year. The objective is to know who you are as a reader (a hybrid model of fluency and interest), set goals, keep track of those goals, and read books! Lots and lots of books! In an effort to “read beside them” I choose books too!
The first title I chose was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I knew it was a popular text with young adult readers and that it was recently made into a movie; however, I did not know how much this book would cause me to analyze myself, my world, and my role as a teacher.
The Hate U Give is written in the first person narrative voice of Starr Carter. Starr is a black teen who witnesses her friend, Kalil, die after a police officer shoots him during a traffic stop gone wrong. An all too familiar story, unfortunately. It is a book about coping with loss, navigating the racial divide in America, and dispelling misconceptions. The Hate U Give is a powerful book for discussions of empathy and perspective. Starr reminds us that in life we can always choose to acknowledge the stories of others, the perspective of others, and value and hold them to be as true as our own, even if they are different. Ultimately, for me, it is this last point that I found so moving and compelling.
Last week, NPR published a story, “Virgina Study Finds Increased School Bullying In Areas That Voted For Trump.” Now, let me be clear this is not a political bash. Hear me out. The study shows that instances of bullying in schools are trending towards an increase, especially on the basis of race or ethnicity. These findings were confirmed through student surveys.
This article was published not long after I finished readingThe Hate U Give and I was struck. The connection between the climate and culture at large in America and the changing culture inside our schools is no accident. Our children are watching. They are listening. It is our job to be sure we are projecting the right message to them because they are so absorbent. Sometimes I forget that this is the most important part of my job. Remember the English teacher tenet? Well, I would like to revise it:
The tenet of the English teacher: read and write beside your students as a means to model for them how to use literature and writing as an avenue for necessary conversations about empathy and the world. Use literature as a window to the world and model how to discuss it with the goal of cultivating a more empathetic future generation.
According to the NPR article, “A nationally representative survey conducted in the fall of 2017 showed that just 14 percent of 9- to 11-year-olds believe that the country's leaders model how to treat others with kindness — and 70 percent said it would help kids their age to be kinder if adults in charge of the country set a better example” (NPR.org).
Not long after I finished The Hate U Give and announced to my class I had finished, several of my students followed my recommendation and asked if they could read it too. This lead to some of the most meaningful discussions I have had with my students. Their passion for their own diverse stories and perspectives took center stage. Reading beside them turned out to be the most powerful catalyst. I found the practice in communication to be essential. When we can clearly communicate with one another then we can understand each other. Starr learns this herself as she figures out how to properly communicate her anger and grief. She is in search for meaning.
In a perfect world I like to think that this simple practice in communication can help curb bullying. Maybe I’m idealistic but that is part of my job description as well: to be idealistic!
I recommend Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give not only for the classroom but for parents as well. We are never too old to learn how to embrace perspective. In the NPR article, Dewey Cornell states, "Parents should be mindful of how their reactions to the presidential election, or the reactions of others, could influence their children.”
It is everywhere on social media: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind."