Why is it so important that we allow stories into our life that challenge our thinking? I was reminded of just how important this is when I read recent Facebook posts shared by a group of parents that feel uncomfortable with a local middle school’s reading assignment of “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
In honor of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) with experiences different from my own, and National Banned Book week, I submit this guest column.
“Ghost Boys” tells a story about the experience of 12-year-old Jerome, shot by a white policeman by mistake. Jerome’s ghost observes the devastating aftermath, allowing the reader to experience the shock, grief and injustice that has plagued BIPOC. Jerome also explores empathy, hope, and forgiveness. The characters in this book, white and Black, experience redemption and demonstrate that challenging topics are not to be feared, but welcomed and critically explored.
If you hear someone say, or you read on Facebook, that this book is “...about a white cop that shoots a young black kid,” then you’ll know they didn’t use their critical thinking skills when they read the book, or they didn’t read the book at all. “Ghost Boys” is a story about racism, bullying, fear, grief, family, hope and forgiveness. A story like this is important for our children and our community because it teaches critical life skills.
This story will teach our kids empathy for others. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others — a truly powerful skill. When we avoid difficulty, when we refuse to look at another person’s experience, when we try to protect ourselves from pain, we lose our ability to care for ourselves and others in a meaningful way. This story allows us to understand and share the feelings of others.
Our children can learn about Jerome’s experience as a young Black boy, and they can connect with the policeman’s daughter as she struggles to understand what happened.
What if the parent who posted, “It’s a bullshit movement pushed by people who think with emotions” asked himself, why does emotion make me feel so uncomfortable?
This story will teach our kids how to think critically. I get it — it’s so much easier to avoid difficult ideas, people and situations. But we can use these moments to inquire about what’s going on, deep down inside. Our children should see us process complicated issues. They should learn that more often than not, the answer isn’t either/or, but both/and.
What if the parent who posted, “I for one do not want my children to look at police as bad racists…” discussed with her children about how people view police, both in the book and in our town? She’d teach her children to consider ideas and make their own decisions, an essential skill as they get older and face more challenging situations.
This story will show our kids there is a better way. “Ghost Boys” points to a promising future and prompts the attentive reader to consider how they can contribute to a more kind, curious, and empathetic culture. Of all the reasons I’ve listed why it’s critical to allow stories into our lives that challenge us, this might be the most important.
For the parent that posted, “I read it today as well and … It is disgusting,” I ask, what if it’s your child that has it within themselves to lead our kids in a better way? Don’t block this opportunity for your child to learn, to grow, to lead.
Why is it so important that we allow this hard and uncomfortable story into the lives of our middle schoolers? Because this story will teach our kids about empathy, how to think critically, and show a way to a better standard of living — qualities we all want for ourselves, our children, and our community.