So, on the one hand, I really do want to convey the message to every student that they are creative, they can write powerful stories, and that this class is designed to help them imagine new stories and develop new writing skills. I want them to believe in the enormous value of their life experiences and to use those experiences, both their successes and their mistakes, in order to keep on learning.
On the other hand, I realize that every student comes to this class from their own background, some from backgrounds that were safe and secure and rich with opportunities of all kinds (as mine was), while other students have faced struggles and hardship and discrimination, both in school and outside of school. So, when I preach the gospel of growth mindset (and yes, I do feel evangelical about it), and when I share the growth mindset cats in the announcements, I am doing that from strong beliefs and good intentions, but at the same time I don't want to ignore the hard realities of the world we live in. It's not the students who most need to grow; it is the schools themselves and the whole school system that needs to be challenged and improved, as Paunesku says:
I had been looking for deficits in the wrong places. The attainment metrics I had been using registered the deficits in the students. But the deficits are not in the students. They're in the systems that are supposed to serve them. For too long, American schools have had a default orientation toward measuring students' abilities and achievement, rather than focusing on the resources—such as engaging learning environments and high-quality, culturally responsive teaching practices—that empower students to learn new concepts and skills.
One thing that I am feeling really good about is the direction my own research is taking: by working on African storytelling traditions in America, I hope to acknowledge the centuries-long struggle of African Americans and the way that their stories not only survived but thrived, defying every effort by slaveholders to stamp out African cultures by denying that African cultures even existed. Reading African folktales all this summer was a major growth experience for me, and I am excited to share what I have learned. And... I will keep on growing! Right now I am reading Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning, and asking myself: why did they not teach us about this in school? We can do better. And we must. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it: