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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

More News From the 9th grade Front

It is quite a thrill to be here in a place called Normal — Illinois (after the school of education that was once here) and to work with the 4th consecutive 9th grade class that has built a year long unit around Race — and in such an intelligent way. The teachers explore many of the issues and angles in the book — in a curriculum that overlaps English, Social Studies, and Science. All of this leads up the students writing their first big research paper. Year by year this gets better — more careful, more thoughtful, better planned. Next year we may create an ibook for the iPad to add more bells and whistles. For me, of course, it is a treat — my book getting every aspect of the kind of exposure I could have wished for it to get. But there are also challenges — and this year, as in recent years, the biggest one has been religion.

In writing about the history of prejudice and how that wove into the idea of race, I have to discuss religious prejudice. Quite a few students here are simply not accustomed to looking at a faith that is so meaningful to them as also the history of human beings with all of the limitations and prejudices that we are heir to. To question that history is, to them, to question a faith that is powerfully meaningful to them. And yet I also find that some of those distressed, angry, students turn out to be the most serious, dedicated, thoughtful researchers. The history I am giving them is so new to them, they have to wrestle with it, investigate it, study it, make sense of it, come to grips with it.

In one way, coming here give me a sense of how in a bubble I am in the East Coast — out of touch with places where faith is so defining. But the challenge also opens doors — how can we speak across such differing experiences and assumptions? Religion seems to be this area where we separate, until there is a borderline such as abortion or evolution, but on which we move away, we don’t dare criticize. This is something we all need to face — but at least here, I have the fortune of having bright kids who are willing to talk — my most severe and thoughtful critic asked to meet me in private to wrestle out these questions together — wonderful.


  1. It never occurred to me that religion would be an issue in examinations/discussions of racism, but I should probably know better given that I live in the South (Atlanta) where faith is taken very seriously indeed. Still, this program sounds amazing and is much needed everywhere!