Connecting Literature to Life
On Monday June 1, 2020, the pilot GTL book club officially passed the halfway mark of the 10-session program. Dr. Maureen Manning and the students have worked incredibly hard to build a community that centers passion for reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I had the pleasure of sitting in on this week’s discussion.
My immediate first impression of the online classroom environment was warmth and excitement from the students. We spent a few minutes receiving feedback from the four of them. Franklin, one of the OBC participants, stated, “I like how there’s no grades. It’s more lenient and open for talking and discussion.” The other students enjoyed this aspect, as well as the open space to learn from each other as Paula chimed in, “My favorite part of the club is how we get to discuss our ideas and get to know what other people think.” Each student had unique responses as to what they enjoyed, but all of them were related to the opportunity of building connections and working collaboratively to understand the book.
Moreover, each student has grown tremendously and it has truly shown through the engagement of critical thinking skills that are expressed outside of these video calls. The Zoom discussion was filled with lively conversation and self-reflection around this week’s chapters. But I, along with Dr. Manning and Dr. Chen, noticed that the students became more active outside the video call environment this week too. They asked questions and engaged in literary discussions using textual evidence over other chatting platforms such as WeChat before the class even met!
The thing that stood out to me the most, however, was the fact that Dr. Manning and the students made an effort to connect literature to life. Writing is timeless. It is art that can speak through generations, that can show the evolution of history, and that can give voice to people and communities. Discussing literature is also not an isolated act.
As a result, the book club embarked on a conversation regarding racism in America, a theme that is not only highlighted by the plot of the book that focuses on a wrongfully accused black man, but also how racism has been perpetuated for centuries especially in current events regarding police brutality and George Floyd. Being able to reflect on literature and to link it to the present day and one’s personal life is a valuable skill that helps individuals build ability, benevolence, and courage – the values of the iABC curriculum we uphold at GTL.
It was refreshing to witness how this book club provided space for these students to engage in complicated and difficult conversations regarding racism, especially at such young ages, since these students aren’t even in high school! While topics like racism can be challenging to have, they are still necessary to help build a cohesive understanding of the world and Dr. Manning said, “We should lean into the discomfort.”
I was amazed at how these students were able to see how racism against African Americans has continued over time. And while literature can seem like just words on a page, it is also the means to create change. The call ended on a note that reminded each student that they have a voice in the change happening today too, as Dr. Manning exclaimed, “Even when the group that’s being oppressed is not a group you belong to, you can still be an ally to that group. Let your voice be heard. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for equality.”
Yelena Nicolle Salvador