When All We Know is Love: Post-Election Thoughts by Travis Crowder

“We can take comfort in knowing that each moment we have with a child is a moment to improve the world.” -Christopher Lehman

“Spread love.” -Kwame Alexander

Hurt. Despondent. Belittled. Mortified. Uncertain. Angered. These are the emotions that are circulating through my heart and mind at this moment in time.  Like many other Americans, I really do not know what to feel, or how to begin qualifying the emotions I’m experiencing. I’ve tried to live my convictions, knowing that goodness, intellect, and love are pillars of a respectful life, and I’ve tried to inculcate within my students the same values.  I want them to respect and to understand the beautiful souls that comprise humanity, loving as widely as they can.

Several months ago, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and came across a picture posted by Penny Kittle.  It was an image of the inside of Crush: Love Poems for Teenagers, written by Kwame Alexander.  The author had inscribed it for her, with the message “Spread love.” As I sat in my living room on the night of the election, watching in horror as the numbers rolled in, I found myself in need of comfort, in need of a friendly voice.  The irony was that many of the people I look up to were in need of the same thing.  Alone in the silence of my apartment, my mind began wandering, and within seconds, I recalled the beautiful inscription in Penny’s book.  It was calming and reassuring, but it was a wake up call.  

I refuse to be consumed by hatred and bitterness.  My students are looking up to me; they are the products of my classroom, and if I sow negativity, they will adopt the same attitude.  I refuse to writhe in the vitriol that has captivated different groups of people in the nation I call home.  Someone has to be a light, and although I’m counting on others to help light my way, I know I must illuminate the way for others, even if it is just for the students in my classes.  

This morning, November 10, 2016, I started pulling books from my shelves that venerate goodness, that expose the hideous side of humanity, that justify what is good and honest in our world.  If leadership will not embrace diversity, I will.  If leadership refuses to propagate goodness, I will.  And I will start with my students. I will spread love, not hatred.  In the cacophony of our current situation, I am choosing to show my students the books that will help them develop a sense of themselves and the people around them.  I want them to see that when hate is a choice, it creates a desolate wasteland of living, and no one can walk through it without becoming tangled in the detritus.

Here are just a few of the books that I pulled from my shelves which embody a sense of humanity and love that I want to spread:

  1. I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson, examines the resilience of people and the courage it takes to be yourself.  
  2. Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart, teaches us that we have to believe in ourselves and persevere to overcome challenges, even when people disagree or don’t understand who we are.
  3. Night, by Elie Wiesel, is a bold book that reminds us that hatred and misunderstanding are the causes of all atrocities against a culture.
  4. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, is a powerful reflection of the racial inequities that plague our nation, but it also shows how seeking to understand others helps us recapture the essence of the human spirit.  

As of right now, there are 15 books lining the ledge on my whiteboard.  I plan to change these books out weekly, and I pledge to find books that will reflect the diversity in my classroom and give my students a window through which to see the world.  I’ve always said that literacy and reading are seldom-sought remedies to the problems in our world, but now, I am hoping more people will understand the prodigious power of books.

I will read. And I will fill my classroom with books that show the beauty of the world through colorful characters, broken characters, struggling characters, uncertain characters, poor characters, different characters, gay characters, questioning characters, African-American characters, Muslim characters, and Mexican characters.  I will encourage my students to write about how the things that make them different are the things that will bind them to the world, because it is in our differences that we find forgiveness, mutual understanding, perseverance, and love.  Aside from the quotes I mentioned at the beginning of this post, another one comes to mind, written by Penny Kittle in The Greatest Catch.  She stated that teachers have to do what’s right no matter what others are doing.  Teaching is about honor and goodness and mercy.  We have to extend this to our students.  We have to show them that even in the midst of peril, we are a haven for them.  Teachers have to live up to the professionalism that is associated with this career.  My kids, your kids, OUR KIDS are counting on us.     

You are the light in your classroom.  Students look to you for guidance as they navigate life, and your willingness to embrace diversity can help students understand who they are and the truth about the world in which they live.  You have a chance to impact the future because of the students you have now.  Use that to your advantage.     

This is not political; this is humane. I cannot help my students understand the fragmented pieces of themselves if I support people whose beliefs are destructive to the fabric of society.  I must speak on behalf of all minorities in our country and world and believe that each one will find something to cherish.  I must bring literature into my classroom that reflects goodness and humane thinking, and is not the by-product of ignorance.   I will spread love. It’s all I know to do.

Travis Crowder is a 7th grade language arts and social studies teacher at East Alexander Middle School in Hiddenite, NC.  He loves reading and writing, and he is passionate about fusing both into his classes and inspiring others to do the same.  By nature, he is  a self-described introvert, but he enjoys making new friends and discussing all things books!  His blog, Teacherman Travis, houses my reflections, musings, and understandings about the teaching of English. Please feel free to visit at teacherman2016.wordpress.com.