Monthly Archives: November 2008

Good Books for Christian Teachers–The Chosen by Chaim Potok

As an English teacher, I am often called upon to select appropriate books to teach in my classes. Since I am the lead teacher in my department, selecting high school novels falls upon me, and this task I take very seriously. As a Christian teacher, I understand that my job requires sensitivity, detailed consideration and a logical rationale for each selection. Each book must be carefully read and selected with a Christian worldview in mind. However, each book must also strive to fulfill the academic requirements of my school as well, which has high expectations in mind. Students should be prepared to survive in an AP Literature and Composition course, which requires strong critical thinking skills and an ability to read discerningly.

One of my favorite picks is the novel The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. What can I say about this book? I love it! Not only does it relate to my students in Panama, it is perfect for discussing a different religion and religious tolerance. It is also excellent for use in a World Literature classroom since it provides so much opportunity for discussion of European history, especially history concerning the Jewish populations. In summary, The Chosen is a book narrated by a young Jewish boy named Reuven Malter, whose father is a professor who write articles about Jewish commentary and interpretation. At the beginning of the story, Reuven meets Danny Saunders, who is the son of an Hasidic Tzaddik rabbi. Although they meet under circumstances that should divide them concerning religion and identity, they somehow make a very unique friendship that helps them survive the coming-of-age process and coming to terms with their own roles within the Jewish faith. This book allows for critical discussion of the following topics:

–What should be the relationship between religion and the secular world?

–What are some Jewish beliefs and traditions? How are they similar/different from Christianity?

–What are the percentages of Jewish people residing in the U.S.? In Panama? In your particularly country? How did they get there and what type of Jewish religion do they practice? Are they Orthodox? Reformed?

–Why can we say that the Jewish faith is the “root” of Christianity? Knowing that, students will be able to develop a respect for Judaism.

–How can we maintain faith even when there seem to be “bad things” happening in the world? (For example, Reuven is living in NY city during the period of WWII.) What is our relationship to God, and how do we see Him?

This book is very multidisciplinary, as it allows students to look up statistics of Jewish populations and create graphs, research historical backgrounds to Zionism and WWII, learn a little bit about psychology and Freud, delve into the intricacies of a major world religion, write thoughtful journal entries and critical papers, and reflect upon a coming-of-age process that they themselves may be going through personally. If you haven’t yet read novels by Chaim Potok, check it out!

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Combating Racism in the Christian Classroom

I am always disappointed when I hear negative comments about the Christian community ignoring social issues such as racism. It happens in our churches, but we ignore it. It happens in our culture and in our world, yet we do not necessarily equip our youth to see it for what it is and do something about it.

Christian school teachers, in my opinion, are even more called to train their students to understand racism in all of its ugly forms, not as an outside entity (It happens “over there” to “some people” in “other places”), but as a continuous process of stereotyping, negative attitudes and discriminatory perceptions. Why is this part of our mission? It is an issue that it NOT political; it is a matter of ethics. Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, we can appreciate the fact that a black American has finally made it to the Presidency and celebrate that fact by encouraging our youth to take advantage of education opportunities. We can take it upon ourselves to motivate our students to develop positive identities and role models within the African American community.

As a little white girl from rural Western NY, it is difficult for me at times to believe that I have a voice in helping to stop racism. I’m tempted to just say, “What do I know about racism? I’m one of the privileged majority. What right do I have to draw the attention of my multicultural students to the dangerous mindsets that perpetuate racism? Don’t they already know more than I do about these issues?” In this sense, it is not about white or black–we all have a part and a duty to train students to see clearly. Yes, my students may have had more personal experiences concerning racism. But it doesn’t necessarily make them mature thinkers in terms of how to react to these experiences and how to pinpoint how they affected their identity and their responses to society.

The interesting part is that in one of my very multicultural classrooms, where each student comes from a different ethnic/regional background, I found my students making blanket statements such as, “Black people create their own stereotypes” or “If they don’t receive a quality education, it is their own fault.” Now that my students have opened the can of worms dialogue, how can I guide them toward appreciating African American culture? These discussions came as a result of reading Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God and I found myself growing discouraged. What is the point of introducing such a beautiful, lyrical, important multicultural text if my students just aren’t “getting” it?

The solution to this problem that I am pondering right now is to get together some of the variety of women from the U.S., Panama and other Latin American countries who have successfully established themselves in a career field. My preference would be to choose a variety of women who come from different economic brackets, who can not only speak on the African-American female experience in a way that is relevant to the novel, but can also open up dialogue from personal experience concerning racism and how it has affected them. Will this work? I certainly hope so. Feel free to respond with your own ideas or comments.

One thing is for sure in my mind. Whenever students believe that racism is dead in their particular area of the world, or that it is someone else’s problem and not their problem, we cannot in good conscience permit that mindset to go unanswered. The danger lies in pretending that simply because we do not perceive aspects of racism or that it is not as visible in certain regions as in others that it has simply erased itself from society. How can we motivate students in the black community to rise above racism and believe in their own achievement? How can we encourage students to take advantage of educational opportunities offered to them instead of thinking, “That’s not for someone like me.” How can we show that we believe in our students, regardless of their racial background?

Let’s make our Christian school students aware of the issues around them, instead of just ignoring them because we believe they might be outside of their personal experience. We don’t stop teaching the Holocaust simply because we don’t happen to have any Jewish students in the classroom, so let’s not take teaching multicultural literature for granted.

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