It’s always a thrill for Nic Stone to open an email or receive a hand-written letter from a Black student who has been inspired by words she’s written.
“This is the first time I’m seeing myself in a book. Now I want to read more.”
Stone, author of the New York Times best-seller “Dear Martin,” began writing books that she wished she had been assigned to read as a Black high school student in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Her goal was to provide relatable stories with diverse characters that “not only validate the existence of young African-American kids, but also validates their inherent power, their resilience, the things that make them who they are.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Stone to realize that the impact of her work went far beyond the Black community and is part of a larger conversation about providing culturally sustaining curriculum to all students.
“Really, I’m writing for everyone,” Stone said. “The beauty of story is that every story has an emotional core that just about anybody should be able to identify with.”
Stone partnered with Summit Learning to continue this important discussion at the Education Writers Association National Seminar on Thursday, July 23. Stone and Evan Gutierrez, Managing Director of Curriculum and Assessment at Summit Learning, engaged in a powerful conversation about how schools can incorporate today’s societal issues into their everyday curriculum.
“This is an exciting moment,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a moment that belongs to the people that are willing to make changes.”
Dear Martin, a young adult novel about a Black teenager who writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and which explores racial injustice and police brutality, was banned last fall by a school district in Stone’s home state of Georgia. Rather than get discouraged by the ruling, Stone has used it to engage with school leaders to help them understand the importance of diverse books.
“The same way that I was told that I had to read The Great Gatsby, I think that people should be reading books written by people of color,” Stone said. “If anything, it just makes us broader, more well-rounded human beings.”
Summit Learning, which includes Dear Martin as part of its base curriculum for 9th-grade English, is dedicated to confronting unjust systems through education by providing curriculum that reflects and honors our students’ identities and the diversity of our schools.
Gutierrez said it’s time for schools to “pay down the education debt” that comes from decades of under-representing students, and referenced studies that show how culturally relevant curriculum helps lead to better participation.
“Particularly those who had one foot out the door … all of a sudden have this very high engagement because they see the narratives that make sense to them,” Gutierrez said. “They see themselves in the curriculum.”
Perhaps even more impactful for Stone is the reaction she receives from her white male readers. She recalled a book signing event where white teens told her that Dear Martin not only expanded their worldview but also made them angry at how poorly Black people are treated.
“That to me says that despite being a member of this dominant culture, and therefore benefitting from a lot of things, they’re beginning to see how unfair that is,” Stone said. “That is vital to any kind of social change.”
In the end, Stone believes the key benefit to culturally relevant curriculum is providing a safe and welcoming space for open communication among students of all backgrounds.
“Discourse is powerful,” she said. “It’s vital that kids are taught how to communicate with each other.”
Watch the full EWA session with Stone and Gutierrez below or here.