Disruption Is Learning: A reflection on Black Boy White School author’s visit.

February 15, 2012

(Posted by Sara Shifrin, teaching librarian at Gould Academy)

“Did I feel different when I was at Gould? Yeah, everyday that ended with a Y.”

I looked at  my 9th graders as Brian Walker ’83 talked to them about his tenure at Gould and his recent book, Black Boy White School.  Scanning their faces, trying to gauge what they were thinking,  I knew they were stuck on the days of the week (MondaY, TuesdaY, WednesdaY…oh, all the time he felt different as a student of color in Bethel. I get it. Sort of.)

So what does that mean to them?  What are they getting? What does it mean for them, a largely ethnically homogenous group, to have Brian visit class and talk about his time here and its impact on his life and his writing?

As I prepare the 9th graders for their cultural immersion in China, Brian’s visit will mean a lot. In China they will, perhaps for the first time, feel different, feel not part of the hegemony. And it will feel a little weird, a little jarring, and a little unsettling. It is that unsettling, though, that disruption of coded behavioral patterns and stereotypes that Brian’s visit and a home stay experience with a Chinese family is meant to have.

This disruption is learning; disruption challenges one to question what one knows and how one came to know it–a theme prevalent in Brian’s novel and a vital ingredient to learning.

As Brian continued to talk, he wove in the relevancy of reading to understanding his own racial disruption.  And as he segued into the short stories that Mac, Bonnie, and Lucia helped their students to understand, I was reminded, and perhaps even emboldened, by my work with emerging readers and writers.

Stories matter.

Perrine’s (yes, alumns, that seminal junior year short story book)  definition of conflict and dilemma and point of view guide me each day.

No doubt, this is a complicated world and Brian’s visit and novel– the work all teachers do to disrupt and then to coach the putting back together in a new way–gave me pause and reflection.  I am putting diversity at Gould on the table in disruptive ways.  And I am not the only one. And I am not the only one who was compelled by Brian’s mention of Ellison’s Invisible Man to grab a copy of the book.

And beyond my 9th grade class, the Gould community is humming about the book.  All 30 copies sold out the night of his author visit and kids are plowing through the chapters. The Gentlemen’s Book Club is reading it over break, and there are plans to get together with our Kents Hill guests to talk about the book.

So, thank you Brian and thank you to all his teachers, friends, and influences.


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