Saturday, June 7, 2008

J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech on the Power of the Imagination

Why it's so important to open up the imagination in schools, discuss, learn, and understand other cultures, eloquently put forth in J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard. You can view the full video at the site.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
When we fire teachers for being too Afro-centric in their teaching, when we attempt to pass laws that limit or ban multiculturalism in schools, when we attack schools like the Khalil Gibran International Academy, when we are scared to confront world realities in our classroom, we are choosing to live in these narrow spaces. 

But when we value the varied experiences of our students, when we study the horrors that can happen in our world, when we go beyond tolerance to challenge our heteronormative assumptions within our schools and classrooms, we choose to engage in the challenging, scary, risky, and wonderful spaces that fully employ our imaginative capabilities, ask us to change our assumptions, and push educators and students to grow together.

Book To Check Out: Slavery by Another Name

Matthew Yglesias at The Atlantic recommends Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon. At the book's website you can find more information about Blackmon, an exerpt from the book, and an interactive map and media.
...what's really striking about the subject is that despite how central the story of racial conflict is to the story of America, and despite how well-known certain key episodes in that history are, the shocking story that Blackmon has to tell here is virtually unknown.
I assume that this kind of thing forms part of the basis of black-white gaps in perception in the United States. The white version of American history certainly admits to the existence of racial oppression, but it's a very optimistic "up from slavery" story where the key figures are the heroes and the key episodes are the ones in which the good guys lost. But for fifty-five or sixty years following the collapse of the Confederacy, the cause of racial equality suffered nothing but setbacks. African-Americans are no doubt largely ignorant of these obscure episodes in a formal sense, but since it's literally part of their family background the history of backsliding and abandonment is going to color the black community's perception of progress made thus far.
It's one thing to recognize that America once tolerated great injustices and then put a stop to them. It's another thing entirely to recognize that the injustices came back and the whole period in which they did so has been expurgated from our official narrative.
The history that we don't seem to teach about in schools. From
In 2000, the National Association of Black Journalists recognized Blackmon’s stories revealing the secret role of J.P. Morgan & Co. during the 1960s in funneling funds between a wealthy northern white supremacist and segregationists fighting the Civil Rights Movement in the South. A year later, he revealed in the Journal how U.S. Steel Corp. relied on forced black laborers in Alabama coal mines in the early 20th century, an article which led to his first book, Slavery By Another Name, which broadly examines how a form of neoslavery thrived in the U.S. long after legal abolition.