However, I have yet to share my reasons. Our month of this book club selection came to a close this past week. However, I didn't feel I could let it end without saying anything at all. And so, without further ado:
WHY I CHOSE WONDER
It was the end of my sophomore year of high school. There I sat with my mom in the principal's office. I was not in trouble. I was returning from having been away from school for three weeks. I had been out of the country, with my principal's permission but prior to returning to class she wanted to see me. Except, returning to class wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. And so there we sat, with me in tears. I didn't want to be there. I was 16 years old and I had just spent weeks traveling through concentration camps in Poland with a youth group (I'm pretty sure that was a learning experience that I would not have gained sitting in a classroom). I had been to Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Birkenau to name a few. During the Holocaust the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau had been the March to Death. On my trip it had been our March of the Living. Myself, along with 7,000 other Jewish teenagers from all over the world came together on Holocaust Remembrance Day and made this walk. The entire trip I was on was called The March of the Living and it truly was a once in a lifetime experience.
This walk, this day, this trip is something that I will never forget - that's the point, to never forget what had come before, so we don't repeat it. It was 16 years ago and I remember everything - some specific pieces - so very vividly. I remember having visited one spot in Poland one day and it being fine, then when we returned the next day a red swastika had been spray painted there. I remember being surprised that intolerance still existed. I remember being saddened that some of the concentration camps could have been up and running again within 48 hours if someone wanted them to be.
I experienced and felt all of this at the age of 16 and then I was supposed to just come home and sit in a classroom for four more weeks of school. It was hard. I didn't really care about the friendship cliques that existed in high school upon my return. If you wanted to be nice to me, fine. If you didn't, fine.
And then, with one week left of school, another tragedy happened in our community. Two friends (teenagers, juniors at my school) were waiting outside the dog groomer for their dog to be ready. While they were waiting, they were car-jacked. They were driven 45 minutes away and taken out of the car. One boy, who was white, was told to start walking. Then he was shot. He was 17 years old and had just taken his SATs that day. His name was Louis. The other boy was then told to start walking. Instead of walking, Dakarai started running, when they shot at him, they only got his arm. With a shot in his arm and knowing his friend was gone, he just kept running. He ran until he found another road. He ran until he found help. He, too, had just taken his SATs that morning. I was in my parents room that night when I heard the news. Louis would not be in my chemistry class the next morning. And sure enough, where once there was a messy desk, Louis' seat had been left nice and neat for him. No one said anything.
Within that final month of my sophomore year of high school, I had witnessed what it was like when people in my religion were treated and harmed because of who they were, I had witnessed what it was like to be treated differently because of my religion, and I had witnessed what it was like to have a person in my community killed because of who he was and the kind of car he drove.
My life changed that spring. I grew up - perhaps before others around me were ready to.
To me it does not matter who you are or where you come from, you do not treat people differently. You treat people with respect.
One of the biggest rules I have and have enforced since the moment I set foot into a classroom involves the word 'hate'. We do not say it - at all! It does not matter to me if you are saying you hate a person or you hate a food, you may not use the word hate. There are other ways to say you don't like something. It is as simple as that - I don't like this, I do not care for that, etc. These conversations can be had with even the youngest of children. I explain it simply, the word hate hurts feelings. When you have older students, you can explain it a tad more in depth, hate has caused a lot of problems. As the teacher, you decide how far you want to take it.
However, I decided from the moment I had power in a classroom that would be a change I made - even the smallest amount of hate can cause the smallest of problems. In just a month of my life look how much 'hate' impacted my life - there were people who hated a religion, people who had so much hate they felt the need to kill, and while I wasn't hurt directly, it did directly impact me. My life was impacted. My life was touched in some way.
Then I read Wonder. I had no idea what it was about. But here's the bottom line - Treat people with kindness. Don't treat people differently, no matter who they are, no matter where they are from, no matter what they look like.
Ah, this was the same message I had learned 16 years ago. Only now, an incredible author had put that message into a book that students can understand. Please. Read it. Read it with your students, your children, yourself. Then go spread the message. The message is simple. It's kindness.
So many great links to other blogs have been shared with me. I am linking them below. I hope you will share. Thanks for reading my story.