Advice for the Fall Semester

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Hey kids - if you’re in one of my classes this fall and reading this, or even if you’re not and just kinda looking for some advice as we all gear up for the Fall semester, I would like you to consider a few things. I, like many United States history teachers, like to assign challenging material - the kind of stuff that makes you think about how we got where we are today as Americans. Also like many teachers, I spend a good deal of my summer reading and developing curricula…putting the pieces in place to broaden the scope of each of my courses and incorporate as many differing ideas as I can fit into a academic year of instruction.

Here’s the thing - when I choose the readings that will ultimately find their way into lessons or topics for class discussion, I do not do so with any preconceived notions about whether or not an author is right or wrong, but because I believe that the authors have something of value to add to the conversation. So far this summer I have carefully read (and throughly referenced the footnotes of) several books including: Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Within the pages of each of these books I found arguments and conclusions with which I resonated…and I found arguments and conclusions that left me with more questions than answers.

But all of that is beside my bigger point. We should not read to confirm our personal biases (yes, we all have them…like it or not) but rather to listen, learn, and inquire. What do the authors have to say? How do their collective works inspire us to read further? What questions do they answer? What questions remain? What perspectives do they add to the American narrative broadly defined?

So this is my advice for students (mine or anyone’s) this Fall:

Listen.

Open your minds to ideas, think about perspective and try to understand that one person’s reality and life experience may be very very different from yours, and begin a reading assignment with the intention to hear to what the authors have to say. Then we can talk. And really…if we’re being intellectually honest, we must be open to the possibility that we will have to revise our thinking should the evidence compel us to do so.

With compliments,

Dr. Harris (Keith)