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Find more Book Links September 2021
Somehow, the start of another school year has come around again.
Many educators are feeling an acute sense of exhaustion as they head into this year. Maybe we didn’t expect, but we hoped that this year would be closer to normal, more stable, with less of the chaos and fear that defined last year. But it looks as if what we have been given instead is another year where everything has been cast into doubt, where we don’t know if the structures we’ve spent a year and a half building and tending will stand up to this new onslaught, where people who were running on empty before are trying to find reserves beyond that, for themselves and for the staff and students they support. That’s enough to make anyone feel like cashing it in—and in circumstances like these, it’s easy to lose sight of the work we’re doing.
Ursula K. Le Guin talked about the relentlessness of bitter circumstances, and by contrast, the human tendency to downplay joy. We have a bad habit, she said, “of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
As we reflect on the last year and a half, I think many of us will recognize this peculiar dance: the elevated emotions that accompany times of high stress, and the drudgery of a period that, while stressful, is unendingly the same.
In this issue, we’ve tried to give you play, starting with a feature on recess (p.29) that highlights the importance of fun in social-emotional development. On the other side of that coin is an annotated bibliography about athletes who have used their cachet to break barriers as social-justice advocates (p.18).
But we haven’t overlooked the troubling issues that persist in the world, of the past or the present. Features on the Jim Crow era (p.34), Indian residential schools (p.4), and police brutality (p.14) will help engender empathy and jump-start difficult conversations in the classroom. And an interview with Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz (p.25) takes us back to ancient Greece, while writer and educator Kate Messner (p.10) talks about the process of creating her History Smashers series, which corrects common misconceptions in the American curriculum.
Times are hard, and they show no sign of getting easier. When we come to the beginning of a school year, a time that’s supposed to be fresh with new possibility, it can be hard to separate out the meaning from the everyday darkness.
I’ll leave you with this: in his poem “A Brief for the Defense,” Jack Gilbert tells us, “We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, / but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of this world.”
It’s a challenge. But especially for those of us who work with kids, for their sakes and our own, it’s something to strive for.
Books and Authors
Books and Authors: Talking with Kate Messner
Books and Authors: Talking with Laura Amy Schlitz
Classroom Connections: Athlete Activists
Classroom Connections: Banned Books Week with Something Happened in Our Town
Classroom Connections: Indian Residential Schools: A Shameful Story
Classroom Connections: Living through Jim Crow
Classroom Connections: Recess and Play
Teen Links: Meeting the Needs of AP Students
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