- Why have I never read this book before?
- I’m going to cry while I talk about this—I know it.
I’m not sure why my 11th grade AP students have so passionately connected with Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass this year—right from the very first day when all they had read were a modern introduction and the preface and letter from two white abolitionists published with the original narrative to give it credence. But I do know that their responses sent me back to a reflection I jotted on one of the keynote speakers at the conference I went to last month.
Peter Dalglish is an amazing and powerful speaker and human being. Do some research to find out about how organizing an airlift of food and medical supplies from Canada to famine-hit Ethiopia in the 1980’s led him to give up a promising career in law for a life of working with some of the world’s most desperate children—both with the UN and with his own organization, Street Kids International.
Dalglish challenged this collection of educational leaders from international schools in East Asia to give our students the tools and motivation not just to make money, but to change the world. He spoke of the nudges and mentoring that set his life path, and challenged us to provide that for our students.
The principle holds for my school in Yomitan, Okinawa, Japan, even though we don't have as many students on the power-and-wealth path as some of the big ones in major Asian cities. And while we may not be able to frequently provide speakers like Dalglish, in person, for our students, the nudges and mentoring that set life paths can include such simple things as the articles, biographies, nonfiction, and fiction that students read in English class. This I believe and have seen in action.
That’s why my 10th and 11th grade courses include works like the following: Cry, the Beloved Country, the classic novel of South Africa by Alan Paton; the introduction to An Ordinary Man, the memoir of Paul Rusesabagina who hid 1,268 Tutsis in his hotel during the Rwandan genocide; the Holocaust memoir Night by Elie Wiesel; the introduction to Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Why I’m Moving Home” by J.D. Vance; and, yes, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
There are other books available in my classroom library that I suggest whenever a student might be interested—like I Am Malala, Mountains beyond Mountains, A Just Mercy, and March.
What books and other pieces of writing have you found to be nudges and mentors to inspire students not simply to get a job and make money, but to change the world?