By way of introduction, a story and a book recommendation. When I was in school, I had an experience that many people have and one I think about often as a teacher — I felt like I rarely saw myself in a book (though disclaimer — I had some excellent teachers). I always feel that recognition when Chimimanda Adichie talks about growing up not realizing people like herself could be represented in books.
I grew up in a very small town, in a deeply religious family, and it felt like my experience was not often a part of school reading. I mean Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in the country, but in my memory they seemed to often be trying not to freeze to death (which didn’t happen in coastal Texas). And Hester Prynne seemed to think a whole bunch about church, but she also seemed to have some other big stuff going on. Neither felt like me or my experience — as a kid trying to make sense of my parents’ beliefs and whether I agreed with them. As a kid dying to escape a small town life at the first available opportunity.
Now my teacher-self doesn’t think it is essential (or possible) to represent every individual in classroom reading, but I can’t say I didn’t feel invisible sometimes when I was one of those students. It is an old idea really — seeing an array of folks in the books we read in schools. But that idea is rarely resonant to me personally.
So all of this is to say that is that recently, I saw a piece of my teen self in a book. I read and loved the book Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, a non-fiction memoir about growing up in a highly religious family, and I felt that thing — that little smidge of kindred. I am unashamed to say that I ugly-cried when he finally sees his parents through slightly different eyes. I soared in that moment when he realizes he is different from them but can still love them. I felt it in a way that seemed elemental.
I’ve circled back around to thinking about this representation question as a teacher educator in Boston, where my world often centers squarely around thinking about what we should read in English class. Now I worry about this representation question and what that meant for my aspiring teacher students.
And as I read Rapture Practice, I literally felt that itch to teach high school. It could be amazing to use this text in a lesson where we are talking about generational differences or doubt or faith or rebellion. I can think of so many ideas for students with backgrounds like and unlike my own. But mostly, I tuck this book away somewhere safe and wonder how it might have felt to read it as a teen.