So, I’ve been thinking about the power of the pile, that stuff that accumulates and starts to matter. I first was thinking about student reflection adding up. Another thing that I think about piling up in this way is the sexual violence in the novels we have students read in English class. I am a regular broken record on the topic.
I’m against any kind of violence in real life. And, I understand that books include violence in many forms and for many reasons. But, as I said in my first ‘power of the pile post‘, one is just one, two makes a line and any more than that and we have a pattern forming. But what pattern do we have? What I worry about is the pattern about relationships that we normalize when so many of the relationships we read about revolve around sexual violence against women. We’re not spreading the violence around. Would that even be better? It’s pretty well concentrated and aimed at women by men. I know we as teachers can say that this is unhealthy, that this is not what we should tolerate in our own lives. And we do that. And then, kids go on and hear or don’t hear that message and go on a read or don’t read the book.
The pile grows.
What other piles need to be ready to provide another point of view? No one book in the curriculum is an issue; it’s the pile. Do we have enough works that have other stories, other relationship patterns? As I spoke with a few colleagues about this the other day, it was this idea that we could all agree on–the idea that we can’t put a single story out there, over and over, so that it piles up and makes the only pile. Having these conversations with my colleagues, when the bell isn’t about to ring, is such a gift. The discussion helped me think a little differently, with more complexity, about the issues, let me practice making my point and refining it, and allowed me to gain perspective. Just another time that reaffirmed for me the awesomeness of the people with whom I work.
Back to the topic.
I also wonder: Does the pile start to say this is what real literature is about or this is what you need to be a grown up book or this is what contemporary works are or that these are the kind of relationships that are exciting to read about? Ultimately, does this become not only normal but to be expected?
Part of what makes me worry about this is an experience I had last year in my YA literature class with seniors. We read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This is an award-winning YA novel that centers around characters and their relationships most of which fall into the gender and sexual diversity category. There is nothing graphic about the situations or relationships that are described. There is kissing. There is a wandering hand or two. There is a lot of hand holding. There are bodies close together. Everyone keeps their clothes on, all the time. And yet, more than one student used the word graphic to describe the book. However, these same students think the rape of a female character in another book was graphic. That was a ‘relationship’ they were familiar with in literature.
I have passed this book around to get some other reactions to it. Maybe I am missing something. Nope. I’m not. It was recommended to me in good faith and was awarded prizes for good reason.
So, this coming year in my YA class, I’m adding this book to the ‘everyone reads it’ book group, rather than a choice book. I will of course help students think about their reactions to the book, its characters, and relationships. Time to add to a different pile.