Reading and Empathy

As a reading specialist, I sometimes get too wrapped up in the techniques and how to help students become better readers.  I do try to keep this in mind as select materials as I discuss in my entry R.E.A.D., but today I would like to give a specific example.  I feel as though our society is in dire need of empathy and understanding and we can help students read better and foster the empathy so desperately needed in our society.

THUGLast summer, I read a book called, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  In this story, Starr Carter, goes to school, and feels she must act a certain way, in a suburban prep school, but lives, and acts differently, in a neighborhood where violence is a reality.  She also is grappling with life after watching two of her friends being shot and killed in her neighborhood, one at the hands of the police.  In addition, Starr knows she is the “mystery person” the media continually refers to who was in the car the night her friend get shot by the police.  Through all of her pain, she is trying to find her voice and learn exactly what race means and doesn’t mean to her.  The two worlds she lives in send her conflicting messages.  The author Angie Thomas does such a beautiful job of bringing the real emotion of racial tensions to life.  My heart ached at times as I read.

Introducing a book such as The Hate You Give which deals with some tough, real-world issues helps students see someone their age involved in a situation in which society is floundering.  No shortage of stories exist where a young life was taken too soon, where race issues turn into rioting, and standing up for one’s rights causes extreme criticism.  Students hear about it and talk about it, but we have become almost numb and feel helpless about the turmoil raging around us.  Reading this book brought up the raw emotion evident in such tragic situations.  If we can help students to develop empathy and care for a character, it gives them an emotional connection to what is happening in our world.  All of this can be accomplished while continuing to working on their reading skills.  We can still work on vocabulary as words that are unfamiliar emerge.  Students are still going to be able to talk about static and dynamic characters as they feel for Starr and her chaotic situation.  This strategic move as a teacher could help students who need to not only strengthen their reading, but also help create a little more empathy and compassion… and that makes it so worth the effort!

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