Education in Crisis

Image from printersrowlitfest.org

Last Saturday I had the privilege of selling my teaching memoir, Tales Told Out of School: Lessons Learned by the Teacher, at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago. Not surprisingly, the majority of my customers and visitors were teachers. Everyone who had not yet retired reported the same concerns:

  • The kids are not all right. The pandemic and the dysfunction in our country have taken a huge toll.
  • The kids are not behaving as well as they did pre-pandemic. They are less cooperative, less engaged, and less friendly.
  • We aren’t going to help kids make up academic deficits until we address their mental health issues.
  • The controversies swirling around so many districts about what can and cannot be taught are disempowering to teachers and make them question their willingness to stay in the profession.
  • Teachers are tired, too. They’ve paid a heavy price during the pandemic, too.
  • There’s just too much micro-management.
  • The pressure on current teachers to cover empty classes on top of their own load is too great a burden.

I recognize that this is a small group of anecdotes, not a vetted research study. But on Wednesday, when I was joined a group of former colleagues for a tram ride through the spectacular Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, I shared that feedback with them. The woman seated directly in front of me turned around and said, “Both my grown daughters are teachers. They’re in two different states and teach different grades, but that’s exactly what they say!”

Research studies about mental health issues for young people abound. I’ve written about them before, and I’ll write about them again. And we already have a serious teacher shortage and a grossly inadequate pipeline of teachers in training. The response, to let college students [Arizona and potentially Michigan] and veterans [Florida] teach without proper training and certification is not the answer. Even in the best of times, teaching has always required commitment, content knowledge, classroom management skills, and training in effective methods and best practices. Yet teaching may never have been more challenging than it is today, so teachers really need good preparation. We cannot help teachers and students recover unless we make significant changes:

  • We need to work on a culture that too often doesn’t value teachers or treat them with respect. Imagine, for example, if the media did more news stories about classrooms that are working well.
  • We need to empower teachers to do the decision-making for which they were trained instead of having screaming adults at school board meetings force administrations to surrender decision-making.
  • Every teacher needs a living wage and a workable class load.
  • We need to expand and develop programs that help teachers-in-training with college tuition in exchange for some years of service teaching in under-served areas after graduation.
  • We should provide mentoring for new teachers.
  • We must staff mental health positions in schools. The NASP has long recommended a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students, yet the national ratio average is 1:1211 and approaches1:5000 in some states [nasponline.org].  The need has never been greater, and classroom teachers have neither the time nor the training to fill it.

I felt so lucky to teach for over 30 years, to know so many students, to work with communities of colleagues. Let’s make sure those still in the classroom get to feel that way. Let’s invest in changes that support both teachers and students. That’s our best hope for retaining teachers and reaching and supporting students.

Is It Already Too Late?

Phto by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I fear for the future of public education in this nation. These forces fuel my angst:

  • Students, teachers, parents and administrators are dealing with lost learning and lost connections from the pandemic.
  • Public support for education seems less reliable. From my first teaching experience in 1970 until my retirement, I saw a shift from teachers almost always being right to teachers almost always being wrong, neither of which seems right to me. The assault on teachers’ choices and on school board decisions suggests an us-you dynamic instead of collaborative support.
  • Micromanaging public education by non-educators has become a costly epidemic. From the days of “No Child Left Behind” to now, legislators have been setting rules and guidelines that may not align with known “Best Practices” and that disempower teachers and teacher decision-making.
  • People using the “culture wars” for their own political purposes are polarizing communities and hurting support for schools. They are robbing schools and educators of decision-making, hamstringing their ability to teach students to think and learn.
  • Critical thinking, perhaps the most important life skill schools should nurture, cannot be taught without exploring more than one side of an issue. Unfortunately, too often today adults want kids to parrot their beliefs instead of developing their own.

I hold core values that matter here:

  • All students can learn given good teachers and appropriate materials and lessons. One size has never fit all, and well-trained teachers are best equipped to figure out how to reach a wide array of students.
  • Educators have a moral responsibility to nurture students thinking, especially critical thinking. We seem to be living in a time when many don’t value critical thinking, when many adults want students to toe their line of thinking instead. How can we solve the great problems facing our world if we can’t think about them openly and explore possibilities collaboratively?
  • Educators can – and should – be responsive to parental concerns about curriculum on a case-by-case basis, thereby honoring their family values without dictating them to everyone else. When I had a parent concerned about controversial content, I could offer alternatives without the entire class being deprived of an important experience or exposure to ideas.
  • Educators, especially when they work in teams and have their curricula evaluated by their administrations and boards of education, are by far the most qualified to develop curricula. Teachers have been trained to evaluate material and put it in a meaningful context. Working in teams, they are best suited to identify what is appropriate and provides an opportunity for learning.
  • Winston Churchill [and/or George Santayana] supposedly said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” How can we teach history from which we can learn valuable lessons if we continue to sanitize it and dismiss uncomfortable past realities?

I knew I wanted to spend my life teaching and learning by the time I was in sixth grade, and I loved my career most of the time. Now, though, I’m less convinced that I would choose it. The politics in Florida may be among the more extreme, but their policies are catching on in other states. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE Act” regulates what schools can teach about race and identity [washingtonpost.com]. Although the law is currently being challenged in court, it should still strike fear in proponents of public education. Critics warn that the efforts in Florida are a harbinger for other states [Ibid.]. “’Florida may be leading the charge,’ said Fairfield University mathematics professor Irene Mulvey, the president of the American Association of University Professors, adding that Texas is not far behind and that many other states are following suit. ‘It’s a trend in the larger culture wars … where you see these politicians trying to throw red meat to the base and stir people up’” [Ibid.].

Florida is trying to control every aspect of education and to focus on a sanitized and Christian worldview. “The DeSantis administration has decried teachings on race, suggested civics instruction that downplays the historical separation of church and state, told school districts to ignore advice from the federal government that guarantees civil rights protections for LGBTQ students and, on Wednesday, asserted that children in elementary schools are being told they are the wrong gender” [washingtonpost.com]. The vagueness of the rules and the conflicting instruction from the state and federal governments are sowing fear and confusion. According to Michael Woods, a Palm Beach teacher and member of the Classroom Teachers Association, “’The vagueness of these laws is doing exactly what it was intended to do. It’s silencing teachers… I have grown people coming up to me worried about what they can say’” [Ibid.].

Florida also requires new civics training for public school teachers that includes the statement that it is a “’misconception’ that “the Founders desired strict separation of church and state’” [washingtonpost.com]. This flies in the face of the First Amendment, which prevents the government from “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which scholars widely interpret to require a separation of church and state. Broward County teacher Richard Judd, who attended the three-day training on the new civics curriculum, said the trainers told teachers, “This is the way you should think” [Ibid.]. Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said, “Then they kind of slipped in a Christian values piece, ignoring the fact that this country is made up of so many different cultures and religions” [Ibid.]. If teachers can only present one view, how can students learn to think critically and evaluate the information offered?

And this same state has flip-flopped over the use of a specific textbook in health and still hasn’t made a decision for the start of this year’s instruction. Health professionals are alarmed, especially in a state with the third-highest rate of new HIV infections in the country according to the CDC, in a state ranked 23rd for teen pregnancies. They point out that public opinion surveys show significant support for sexual education [Ibid.].

If these actions were limited to one state, I would be less concerned. But they are not. Lawmakers across the country are proposing bills like these: “’First Florida. Then Alabama. Now, lawmakers in Ohio and Louisiana are considering legislation that mimics the Florida law,’ according to NPR” [catholicvote.org]. After Florida passed the Don’t Say Gay Bill, 19 other states have introduced similar legislation [nbcnews.com]. For this issue alone, The Guardian identifies Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma, Ohio, and South Carolina as states emulating the Florida Don’t Say Gay Bill. Education Week shows similarcontagion from state to state [theguardian.com].

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the only flashpoint. Since January 2021, 14 states have passed laws prohibiting “critical race theory, even though that term refers to post-secondary scholarship. Legislators want to sanitize the nation’s history of slavery. These laws and orders, combined with local actions to restrict certain types of instruction, now impact more than one out of every three children in the country, according to a recent study from UCLA [edweek.org]. Education Week analyzed active state bills and warns that “Republicans this year have drastically broadened their legislative efforts to censor what’s taught in the classroom. What started in early 2021 as a conservative effort to prohibit teachers from talking about diversity and inequality in so-called ‘divisive’ ways or taking sides on ‘controversial’ issues has now expanded to include proposed restrictions on teaching that the United States is a racist country, that certain economic or political systems are racist, or that multiple gender identities exist, according to an Education Week analysis of 61 new bills and other state-level actions” [Ibid.].

Teaching has always been hard, and other factors [like the pandemic and verbal fights at school board meetings] have only increased its difficulty. But this national movement to disempower educators, to take away their decision-making, to make them fearful of lawsuits as they try to determine what subject matter is safe in their state, is crippling their ability to teach. A survey of members of the American Federation of Teachers shows dramatically increased job dissatisfaction, up from 27% in 2014 to 79% in 2022 [AFT Member Survey]. That news should be especially concerning given the existing shortage of teachers and the insufficiency of the pipeline of teachers in training.

Publishing my teaching memoir this year reminded me of the joys as well as the challenges of my career. Would I choose it now? I don’t know. Will others? The current climate hardly encourages the best and the brightest. Don’t our students deserve them?

The High Cost of Ignorance


From tulsahistory.org

I have been grappling with the extent of my own ignorance for weeks now. I graduated from an Eastern public high school nationally known for excellence, then earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and later a Masters degree from Southern Connecticut State University. Despite studying history at all three schools, I had never heard of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. How is that possible?

I’d never heard of Black Wall Street and Tulsa’s affluent black community, the Greenwood District. I did know about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store, because the news about that awful case continued during my childhood. The Tulsa Race Massacre started in a similar way, when a young black man named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main with a white woman named Sarah Page. The accounts from that elevator ride varied, yet the Tulsa police arrested Rowland the next day.

Then “An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of the Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District” (tulsahistory.org). The next day, Greenwood was looted and burned. “In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died” (Ibid.). According to the New York Times, “The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 killed hundreds of residents, burned more than 1,250 homes and erased years of Black success.” Twenty years ago, the state of Oklahoma published Tulsa Race Riot: A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, acknowledging $1.8 million in property loss claims — $27 million in today’s dollars. According to the New York Times, “Much bigger is a sobering kind of inheritance: the incalculable and enduring loss of what could have been, and the generational wealth that might have shaped and secured the fortunes of Black children and grandchildren” (Ibid.). Indeed, calling it a riot instead of a massacre may have insulated insurance companies from claims.

The spate of articles, interactive internet pieces, and documentaries acknowledging the hundredth anniversary of this carnage educates us all about this slaughter and the racism that provoked it. This staggering loss of life and property is a tragedy; so is the loss of future opportunity. The dead remain in part uncounted and uncelebrated. The magnitude of this event and its inhumanity haunts me.

Last summer forced me to explore the way this country’s wealth was built on the back of slaves, the inexcusable inequities of wealth and housing and healthcare, and the very real dangers for people of color in their interactions with police. We cannot allow this to continue. If we believe in our country’s Declaration of Independence and truly “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” then we must act to end racism and inequity.

Education is the first step toward making our society fair and just. Only when we learn the truth about our history will we be empowered to change it. I live in Illinois, which just adopted “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards.” Although they only affect preservice teacher training programs and don’t take effect until 2025, they are a baby step in the right direction. The United States of America can only achieve its aspirations for a fair and just society by teaching citizens the ugly truths about our country’s past so that we can build a better future.

Best Buddies at Graduation

Last week we had the pleasure and privilege of attending our middle granddaughter’s graduation from a Chicago public magnet high school. The ceremony was held at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago because the school auditorium was too small for the class of over 450 and all of their supporters. The event was lovely if long, and we especially enjoyed seeing a certain young woman prance across the stage with grace and confidence to receive her diploma. The class stats were mind-boggling: every student was headed to a four-year college, and they’d logged countless volunteer hours in the community, won numerous academic and athletic championships, and earned $56 million in scholarships! Memorable and impressive, to be sure. That’s part of the package of a top-notch magnet school.

The part we didn’t anticipate happened when the Special Education students walked across the stage to pick up their diplomas and certificates. Part of the mission of Whitney M. Young Magnet School is “To give students with disabilities the same high school opportunities as their non-disabled peers.” In addition to a sizable faculty and staff, the school has a Best Buddies program that pairs regular and special ed students. Some of these students could not make it across the stage without physical support; a couple had trouble following the directions. But each and every one of them received the same response from the audience of parents, friends, and peers: loud cheering and applause with great gusto. This is a truly inclusive community where high-achieving students whose academic success is often a given appreciate and celebrate the success of those who have overcome obstacles to be able to march across that stage. Their genuinely joyful response was uplifting.

When I commented on it, I was assured that those who have attended multiple Whitney Young graduation ceremonies experience that every year. Being part of that kind of school culture, with genuine inclusion, prepares students to work and live with others regardless of their circumstances. It gives me hope for the future.

Keeping Students Safe

Another school shooting… Yesterday one student was killed and eight injured by gunfire at a Denver-area charter school. We barely react any more. We’re too accepting of this “new normal.”

Education Week reassures us: “With two large-scale school shootings in 2018—17 killed in Parkland, Fla., and 10 killed in Santa Fe, Texas—public fears about school safety and gun violence are high. But the data show that, on the whole, schools are one of the safest places for children.”[1] Is that supposed to be comforting? Schools should be safe places. We should be doing more to keep all schools safe. But we don’t know how.

Just last week Florida’s House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that would permit classroom teachers to carry guns in schools, and the Governor is expected to sign it. How can this be the answer? Even if I had been thoroughly trained to use a gun, my fear of guns and the reality that many of my high school students could have overpowered me and taken it away suggests that teachers toting guns might only add to the problem. We are called to the profession for our love of learning and desire to empower students to experience that. How many teachers are drawn to policing? What would be the impact of gun access on their relationship with students?

Wouldn’t we be better served addressing key issues?

  • What drives shooters in the first place and what we might do about that?
  • What can we do about access to guns by individuals who show signs of being unstable?
  • How can we better identify those individuals?
  • Why would any civilian need bump stocks and semi-automatic rifles? Can we outlaw those?

I had high hopes that the courageous students of Parkland would drive a serious discussion that led to meaningful problem-solving here. I was naïve. But we need to look at the root causes of school shootings and address them directly, instead of settling for dangerous “band-aids” like arming teachers, band-aids that themselves might just lead to more wounds. Our students deserve that. So do our teachers. The time is now.


[1] http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/District_Dossier/2019/05/eight_students_injured_in_denver_school_shooting.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2-rm&M=58826339&U=1603651&UUID=a2c5403f90bf9a526413b15a7b86a2e2

Conquering the Canopy Walk: a Metaphor

The canopy walk at Sacha Lodge, Ecuador

I don’t do heights. I don’t much like snakes, mosquitoes or heat and humidity either. How then, did I find myself 94 feet above the jungle, walking 940 feet between three strong metal towers on a swaying bridge? By climbing fourteen flights of steps in 98゚heat with 90+% humidity.

A better question might be why, or even how? The answer speaks to educators. Our trip facilitator knows me well and he knew the situation. He’s helped me overcome my limits before, though perhaps never so dramatically. We talked about the canopy walk before I even left the safety of my home. He knew how to help me choose to go.

He said, “You can do it, I know you can, and I’ll help. Just take your time – we won’t rush you. And you won’t want to miss it.” He made me believe in myself enough to overcome deep-seated fears because I believed him. I could, he’d help, I could take my time, and I’d be sorry if I skipped it.

It’s worth noting that when we kayaked the Lake Country of Italy with him two years earlier and I chose not to take a clumsy funicular up to a frightening height, he didn’t push me. Instead we had a wonderful paddle. So if he said this wasn’t to be missed, I wouldn’t miss it.

And I had additional support to see me through. Our kayaking buddy Ada, with whom we’d taken two other trips, had seen my bypass the funicular and knew I wanted to do this terrifying climb. She promised to walk with me. I would not face this scary challenge alone.

So I climbed. At halfway up I questioned my sanity, but I kept going. When we finally reached the top of the first tower, the view of the jungle’s canopy was breathtaking. The drop to the ground below looked gentler than it must have been, and I finally caught my breath. Dripping in sweat, cursing the heat and humidity, I did take the time to do a 360゚view. My husband had patiently climbed right behind me, but at the top I lost him to his camera. While he clicked away, taking pictures I knew we’d both be glad to have, I headed out on the walkway toward the middle tower, determined to complete the walk before I lost my nerve.

The first half felt fairly stable, and I found myself looking ahead and around rather than down. This isn’t so bad, I thought to myself. I stopped briefly at the middle tower, winded and dripping with sweat. I need to finish this, I thought, and I can do it.

Sadly the second 450’ swayed far more. Whimpering, I practiced self-talk. I wanted to quit but knew that the closest path to the safety of the ground was straight ahead. Happily my friend Ada walked back to join me. I kept my eyes on the back of her neck and hung on to the coarse rope cable to gain an illusion of control. My legs were trembling when we reached the far tower, but I had done it – I had completed the dreaded canopy walk and was alive to tell about it!

Now I just had to make my way down 14 more flights of stairs. Since everyone else was captivated by the view, I worked my way down slowly. I wanted to kiss the ground when I reached it, as I had after my son talked me into riding Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland, but the mud seemed unappealing. Finally the others  joined me and we hiked back to the lodge though the jungle. Dehydration and fatigue sapped my energy, yet I was triumphant! I had just done something I’d been sure I couldn’t do. I could have been faster, more graceful, less noisy in my whimpering, but I’d done it nonetheless. And now, when I face new challenges, I will be a bit more confident because of this triumph.

Next month I’m going to model a semi-transparent dress in a runway show. I’ve had garments I’ve designed on the runway before, but I’ve never had to model them myself, and this garment is particularly problematic.  But I will remind myself that I completed the canopy walk, and that will see me through.

Why write about this in a teaching blog? Because sometimes our students feel as apprehensive as I did. We may not understand why, but we need to recognize their fears and help them conquer those fears. Those who don’t share my acrophobia may never really understand how hard this walk was for me, but they can help me succeed by acknowledging my true feelings and showing me how to overcome them. We need to tell our students, “You can do this. I’ll help you. Take your time. You’ll be glad you did.”

And in collaborative, constructivist classrooms, we need to encourage their classmates to support them the way Ada supported me. I am reminded of a presentation in our American Lit class by a student who struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When he stood up to speak, he started biting his arm. Quietly the other members of his group stood up, surrounded him, and nodded encouragingly. He was able to present his part of their material. With their support, he triumphed. Far less dramatic situations happen in classrooms every day, and teachers and classmates can make a difference. Students who overcome their fears and do something they thought they couldn’t become empowered to tackle additional challenges. It’s up to us teachers to help that happen.

Finding our Common Humanity

“Kids and Cuban friends on balcony of Hotel Leon Varadero Beach Dec ’54”

We just returned from an amazing ten-day kayaking trip in Cuba, and I’ve been thinking about how much I learned and how I learned it. Though we love to kayak in foreign waters – a wonderful and different way to explore new places – a bigger draw for this trip was my long-time wish to return. In 1954 my family spent part of winter break in the first resort hotel in Varadero Beach, Cuba, during Batista’s regime. I knew nothing of the politics or corruption there, so for me the trip was wonderful, set apart from our other frequent family travels by two distinct epiphanies.

First, my beloved brother Peter, gazing at the wondrous expanse of silver-white sand, challenged me to help him figure out just how many grains of sand there were covering the shoreline. I would never have thought about that without his prompting, and we spent endless time collecting sand, estimating the number of grains each time, and trying to extrapolate those findings into a likely total. Peter introduced me to a new way of thinking about the world around me.

The second involved the local children we befriended. I don’t remember the name of the boy, but I will never forget Marielle. I’ve always loved languages so, although I was only seven, I had brought a Spanish-English dictionary. I worked to learn phrases so I could talk with locals. A bit older, Marielle wanted to learn English and often glanced longingly at my book. She lived near the hotel, so my parents agreed to walk me to her home before we left so I could give her the dictionary to keep. This was not the first time I’d visited a place with a different living standard from my own affluent suburban upbringing – our parents were invested with our understanding that diversity. Other places had failed to make a lasting impression. This time, though, I visited the home of my new-found friend. Her family had so little, a dramatic contrast to the lifestyle I’d always taken for granted. That visit taught me not to take my comforts for granted, not to be so egocentric.

This long-awaited trip to Cuba reinforced that learning. We had the privilege of staying in casa particulares, private homes owned by Cubans who rent rooms to tourists. The Cuban economy uses a dual-currency system: Cuban pesos for locals who are paid by the government, and Cuban convertible pesos, worth 25 times as much, for use by tourists. This system creates what our wonderful guide Roberto calls an “upside-down pyramid.” Professionals like his doctor father and teacher mother must live on a miniscule salary in Cuban pesos, while those who manage to work in tourism improve their financial standing dramatically. Having lived through the 1990s economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union left Cuba stranded, he himself changed his career path to tourism so he could help support his family. Putting any political judgments aside, I found the resourcefulness and friendliness of the Cubans we met inspiring.

The biggest lesson I bring back from this experience is our common humanity. Two of my favorite experiences emphasized this. Our hosts just outside the old town of Trinidad welcomed us warmly. When Marisol said, “Mi casa e su casa,” she really meant it. Hot and sweaty on arrival, we were treated to Canchanchara, the traditional drink. Once fluent in French and Italian, I’d made little progress in my study of Spanish before the trip, and Marisol and her husband and son spoke virtually no English. But we communicated with gestures and smiles and my occasionally looking up words in my second Spanish-English dictionary. The next afternoon, when we returned from a hike through the old town after a river paddle, again sweaty and tired, we sat on their back portal. Her son came to invite us back into the gardens where it was cooler, and they surprised us with refreshing limonada. The pictures I’d brought from our 1954 trip fascinated the family, and we felt a strong human connection.

The next day we visited the beautiful city of Cienfuegos, where we were treated to a stellar performance by a local choir. Music is a constant in Cuba, and we’d enjoyed singers and bands throughout our trip. This time, however, felt very personal. The choir began with a heart-felt rendition of the American song Shenandoah, moving me to tears. The other pieces were in Spanish, but their spokeswoman kindly explained the content of each before singing. I loved the piece about the person who though he could sing, who really sang like a duck as exemplified by their quack-quacks during the song!  During their last song they invited us to come up and dance with them – a wonderful experience! Afterwards they invited questions and comments. Overwhelmed, I barely managed to get my words out… but I told them that I could not sing and was the duck, making them all laugh, and that I had loved their performance because they made me realize that for all our differences, we shared a common humanity that too often gets forgotten. My tears weren’t the only ones.

This choral group is as good as any I’ve heard, yet they struggle to raise the money to record their work, and they must sell their CDs to pay for their trips to competitions despite how professional and accomplished they are. Once again I was reminded of how much I take for granted.

All of which made me think about why I became a literature teacher in the first place. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel widely, to meet people from other places who live very differently from ourselves and to realize how much we still have in common. We appreciate many of the same gifts: a laugh, a smile, a song, friends, sharing a good meal… But anyone who can read simply needs a library card and time. Through stories and books, we can discover so much about the rest of the world.

I was excited to see some progress in the 80s and 90s – albeit excruciatingly slow – to have children’s textbooks include a variety of people, so that all students might see themselves reflected on the page. As a teacher I helped include books in the curriculum that showed my students very different lives. If I were still in the classroom now, I would look for even more ways to do that. The canon is broader than it used to be, but educators can be more strategic in what they choose and how they use it. I used to tell my freshmen that Romeo & Juliet is a story they can recognize: two teenagers so “hot to trot” that they sneak around behind their parents’ backs, heedless of possible consequences. When my sophomores read the riveting memoir Warriors Don’t Cry, they had to imagine what it was like for Melba Beals and the other eight students to integrate Little Rock High School, to face down the hatred and opposition of segregationists. When my seniors read The Plague by Albert Camus, they faced a world where medical care could not save the victims. Well-written stories bring other worlds to life. We need to include them in our curricula. Our students can and should learn that while much divides us, more unites us. The human experience transcends local differences.