As part of the Education Writers Association national seminar, Summit Learning will host a session on July 23 with bestselling author, Nic Stone, and our managing director of curriculum and assessment, Evan Gutierrez, that will explore how a banned book on racism, such as Stone’s Dear Martin, and a refined approach to curriculum are providing opportunities for communities to discuss racism and inequality.
As a preview for the EWA session, we asked Nic Stone 5 questions:
1. Your book, Dear Martin, is part of Summit Learning’s 9th-grade English curriculum and deals with racism, oppressive systems, privilege, and other societal issues. Why is it so important for books that address such culturally relevant topics to be included in the classroom?
What’s interesting here is that books that address *relevant* topics have always been included in the classroom. From The Scarlet Letter which dealt with women’s empowerment in an interesting way, to The Great Gatsby which addressed economic inequality, I don’t think I ever read a book in class that didn’t touch on some “issue” or another. Culturally relevant topics are vital because we live in a world filled with a myriad of people, so it’s vital that these topics we’ve been addressing for decades be addressed from different viewpoints. I think it’s the only way we can all move forward together in a way that not only supports coexistence, but also co-thriving.
2. Why did you write Dear Martin?
Dear Martin was birthed out of my desperation, as a new mom of a black boy, to understand some of the ugliness perpetuated against people who looked like the person my son will eventually become. I’d learned about the death of a teen named Jordan Davis–who was shot during an argument over loud music in the parking lot of a convenience store in Jacksonville, FL, and I needed to figure out what I was going to tell my own child when he got older. At that point, we were 44 years post-assassination of Dr. King, and it was clear to me that there was still a ways to go in terms of true racial reconciliation and the dismantling of systemic racism in this country. So I made Dear Martin into my research project: if Dr. King were alive in 2017, how would he have responded to some of the things going on, and would that response have been helpful to him?
3. Can you speak a little about the power of books and how they can give access to narratives about people who may be different from each other?
I think books are the greatest vehicles of empathy possible. Unlike films, which leave zero space for self-insertion into a narrative, reading requires activation of the imagination in a way that naturally lends itself to finding things about characters you can identify with in order to be carried forward in the story. Fiction specifically is brilliant for this. As such, reading stories creates the space for us to find points of connection with the characters we’re investing in, even if they are different from us. It’s the closest thing on earth to actual magic, I think.
4. Student groups across the country have been leading demonstrations and petitions calling for anti-racist curriculum and instruction. What are your insights on this time in history, particularly related to the momentum we’re seeing surrounding student-led anti-racism work?
All great historical movements for change were led by young people. Which just means I have a lot of hope for this one. With the passion and energy of the youth pushing things forward right now, I think we are headed in an excellent direction.
5. What were some of your favorite books and authors in high school?
Favorite of favorites was a book called The Virgin Suicides by an author named Jeffrey Eugenides. Despite being about white girls, it gripped me and made me feel seen in a way no book ever had before. Another was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Sadly, when I was in high school, there really weren’t many people writing books aimed at black teens. I am thrilled that has changed… and that I have the privilege of being a part of said change.