Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Change, Just as We Lose an Agent of Change

Did you all see this study: the article summarizes a National Center for Education Statistics study which says we are at a moment of fundamental change. From now on, the majority of students in our K-12 schools will be Latino, African-American, Asian-American, or Indian. The article framed this as the last year of white majority, but that defines the moment as an ending rather than as a beginning -- a moment of possibility. How ironic, then, that Walter Dean Myers passed away on Tuesday, July 1.

Walter -- I did not know him well, but well enough to call out "Walter" as I'd pass him at a conference (the long line being a sure sign that I was near his booth) and he'd nod, and we'd chat -- was in a way that Moses who saw the promised land. He not only wrote about the African-American world in which he had grown up, his writing changed the world. He established an uncompromising voice of honesty, depth, and fearlessness -- he showed what was possible. I always teach Monster, which I think is his masterwork, to my graduate students in library school. It is, I claim, one of those perfect books everyone must read. It took so many risks -- in form, in theme, in approach -- and got everything right. Walter wrote in the time when he had to counter a silence, an absence of work about the world that meant so much to him. He was a clarion voice.

Now, though, this July, we read that our schools are changing. What do our students need to read? And how is this new majority distributed? I have seen assessments of Brown V Board of Ed that suggest we have re-segregated -- and it is Latinos in the West who are the most isolated:

What is the literature for our changing school? Who will be our new Walter? Our many new Walters? It is the time for curiosity -- we are all together as a society, as a world, we need to be together in our classrooms, our bookshelves our reading. Walter led -- who will follow?


1 comment:

  1. I, too, am saddened by Walter Dean Myers' passing. I only met him once at a conference, but it was a memorable meeting. His presentation at the conference was about how he learned to read and learned the power of reading and writing. It was an extraordinary story. The breadth of his work is far reaching and significant, and after hearing him speak and briefly speaking with him, I read his work a little differently. I felt more connected to him. He has left us an amazing legacy. We should celebrate it.