Posted in Reading, Teaching

Discussing VCU’s Summer Reading

The Other Wes Moore (2010)

This morning I met with twenty-five first-year students to discuss  The Other Wes Moore, VCU’s 2011 Summer Reading Program selection, as part of Welcome Week. Though classes don’t begin until tomorrow, the students I met with today–and the other members of the freshman class who met with other faculty, administrators, and staff during  Welcome Week discussions–engaged in an academic conversation similar to the ones that they will  encounter in their Focused Inquiry classes.

I was impressed by the number of students who were willing to express their ideas both in small-group and large-group discussion. (Our one-hour session included both.) I attribute the high level of participation in part to the nature of the  Welcome Week Summer Reading sessions, giving students the opportunity to engage in an academic discussion that isn’t led by someone who will evaluate their performance and record it in a grade book. Instead, the sessions offer an introduction to and preparation for the academic conversations that they will encounter later  in the classroom.

Several of the students I met with today mentioned the lines that were repeatedly addressed in the session for discussion leaders that I attended on August 15: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his ” (xi).

Those lines from Moore’s introduction also appear on the jacket–part of the book that’s the work of the publisher, not the writer. Wes Moore mentioned that fact when he spoke with the Focused Inquiry Faculty yesterday in a meeting interrupted by the earthquake. After we evacuated the Hibbs building, Moore generously continued to speak with the faculty while we stood on Shafer Court, awaiting news. In his discussion–both both pre and post-earthquake–Moore focused not on the lines that lend themselves to book-jacket blurbs, but on the crucial roles of  the people in his life–relatives, role models, and mentors–who, in his words, “kept pushing me to see more than what was directly in front of me, to see the boundless possibilities of the wider world and the unexplored possibilities within myself” (179).

The earthquake prevented Wes Moore from addressing the freshmen at convocation yesterday, but his words have spoken to many of the students I met with today. And their willingness to consider differing opinions about his book shows that they, too, are willing to see beyond their own experiences to the wider world.

Posted in Reading, Teaching

“The Other Wes Moore”

The Other Wes Moore (2010)

This morning I attended a meeting that brought together some of the VCU faculty, staff, and administrators who will lead discussions of The Other Wes MooreVCU’s 2011 Summer Reading Program selection–during Welcome Week, August 21 – 28. Each of us will meet with a group of first-year students and their Resident Assistant  to discuss Moore’s book, which chronicles the lives of two young men from Baltimore, born within a year of each other and bearing the same name, one of whom, the author, became Johns Hopkins‘ first African-American Rhodes Scholar; the other of whom will spend the rest of his life as an inmate at the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. In his introduction, Moore writes: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his ” (xi). Several of the meeting’s attendees referred to those lines, including the woman sitting next to me, who turned to me before we began and asked: “Do you think it’s true?” I didn’t have time to respond–much less formulate a response–before the meeting began in earnest.

Though I haven’t finalized my plans for the discussion that I will lead on August 24, I know that I will ask the students to consider those lines from the introduction, the “moments of decision” (xi), when they could have chosen different paths, and the impact of mentors in their lives.

In Chapter Seven, Wes Moore recounts how his mother “sensing [his] apathy toward reading” (130), bought the teenage Wes a copy of Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five: “I was riveted by that book. The characters jumped off the page, and I felt myself as engulfed in their destiny as I was in my own. I finished The Fab Five in two days. The book itself wasn’t what was important–in retrospect I can see that it was a great read but hardly a great work of literature–but my mother used it as a hook into a deeper lesson: that the written word isn’t necessarily a chore but can be a window into new worlds” (130-131).

I hope that The Other Wes Moore will serve as a hook to deeper lessons as well.