Musing Mondays—June 27, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Have you ever read a book that inspired you to take up a cause? What book was it, and what is/was the cause?

I have never exactly taken up a cause because of a book, but I have changed my opinions or practices because of a book. Barbara Kingsolver is one author who has changed the way I think about things on a couple of occasions. Robin Bates wrote about the issue of illegal immigration recently, and I left a comment on his post about how Kingsolver’s novel [amazon_link id=”0061765228″ target=”_blank” ]The Bean Trees[/amazon_link] helped me understand the issue is not black and white. In the novel, the character Mattie helps illegal immigrants sort of like a stop on the Underground Railroad, and it is through Mattie that Taylor, the protagonist, meets Estevan and Esperanza, who are illegal immigrants from Guatemala. Estevan and Esperanza came to America to save their lives. Had they gone through the proper channels, they likely would not have been allowed to come to America, but if they hadn’t left Guatemala, they would have been killed. Sometimes, it won’t work to just request asylum. The novel shows how an issue that is usually portrayed as black and white—illegal immigrants are breaking the law—becomes more complicated. We don’t necessarily know the whole story behind why someone chooses to enter the country illegally, and we don’t know what they are leaving behind.

Kingsolver’s novel [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], one of my favorite books, examines the role America played in pillaging Africa. The British have examined this colonial role in their own literature, but Americans like to think that because they had no colonies, they were well out of it. It’s a gorgeous book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

While not revolutionary, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s book [amazon_link id=”0131950843″ target=”_blank” ]Understanding by Design[/amazon_link] changed the way I teach and assess students on their learning and has continued to be influential in my life. I can’t compare it to a cause, really, but I have taken to trying to convert as many teachers as I know to backward design.