Friday, January 29, 2010

Zinn, Salinger, and my students

So, it looks like this is one of those times that, sadly, proves the rule that bad things happen in threes--we've now lost three insightful, artistic geniuses this month. Howard Zinn and J. D. Salinger joined Teddy Pendergrass in leaving the world a little better than they found it.

I was glancing through the remembrances and personal reflections of the work of Zinn and Salinger. Many people had their own threshold moments about how their words changed one's perspective on the world or how their ideas connected deeply to another's sense of isolation. It might seem odd that I throw all three of these men together, but the truth is that they challenged the way we see the world. They made us ask the questions that force a look at our collective humanity: Do I matter? Do other people matter to me? Am I loved? Will my love be returned? Am I free enough to be unguarded? There's something so fearless about their work, all in their own ways. I'm amazed.

As I am meeting with students this week, I'm also feeling pretty amazed at their fearlessness. They are writing literacy narratives and I've asked them to think about moments when writing or language helped them overcome silencing. Their stories are poignant and moving and, too often for only 18 years old, painful. Seriously painful. Rape and suicide and violence and death kind of painful. I can't believe they are telling me this stuff (and several times I have wished they they would please stop telling me this stuff! Geesh!).

The point I think I am left with is that words matter. I know. That's simple and cliche. But I hope that my students realize the raw truth of that idea. Words, even their words, can change the world.


Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful post! And great last line. It reminds me of something that Sylvia Plath said once...or maybe it was the prof in Dead Poets Society. Not the point. The point: words CAN change the world. Brava.

And how great that your students are taking the opportunity to write their lives. And obviously they trust you very much. You are such a good teacher!!!!!

daGorb122 said...
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The Steel Magnolia said...

Thanks, Ink. I am, of course, reminded that the semester just started, so I'm still totally confused about just WHY they trust me so much. One of the students with perhaps the worst story wrote an email and said that she just knew that she could tell me, even though she's only disclosed the story to 2 other people--neither of which was her mother.