September 21, 2005

Choose a quote from the book and write about it

I've been reading short informal papers in which my students respond to the early chapters of the book Bone Black by bell hooks, which is the memoir of a girl growing up in a poor family in Kentucky in the 1950s. I read 60 of these short papers three times each week -- and I have been known to complain (just a little, of course) about the amount of time I spend reading student papers during a semester. Sometimes, though, what a student says will really hit home with me.

In one paper today, a young woman talked about how she grew up poor, and how she can remember feeling bad for not having the kind of clothes or toys other kids had. She said she thought she grew up poor until she read this book. Then she gave a quote from Bone Black: "We do not understand that our playmates who are eating laundry starch do so not because the white powder tastes so good but because they are sometimes without necessary food." The student wrote that that one sentence really struck her. "That is when I realized," she wrote, "that I have never been poor. I do not know what it is like to be poor."

8 comments:

Dr.K said...

I also have to remind myself of this same thing from time to time. My son goes to a private Montessori school, which we struggle to pay for, and we sometimes compare our house to the mansions the other parents inhabit--it doesn't measure up! But we know we're rich by any kind of reasonable standard, even though I teach for a living. I love the taste of laundry starch myself, though, and I've found that sprinkling a bit of 20 Mule-team Borax on my cereal gives it that extra zip.

listmaker said...

I have several foreign students working for me this year and their life stories and experiences are eye-opening to the other students, especially given the parochial atmosphere around here.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I believe there are many levels of poverty and that some of the less extreme forms are still a genuine hardship. It is also important for people to come to terms with these.

Some people starve to DEATH. Others are stunted physicallly, mentally and emotionally by poverty. Poverty, in some ways, is a worse hardship and children and on the elderly than on healthy adults. But it is rarely good for anyone.

Barbara Kingsolver writes eloquently about *real* needs, comparing them to what we think we need in modern America.

Lilian said...

you've probably have come across to this blog post (and, even more importantly, the comments readers wrote to add to the post) about "Being poor", but maybe your student would like to look at it. I was definitely moved/ shaken by several of the comments:
http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003704.html

Mona Buonanotte said...

Bravo to your student.

I had a talk with my Girl-child tonight about how much she had and what she should be thankful for, because she's never gone hungry, never had to wear plastic bread wrappers inside her holey boots in the winter, or worry about where she was going to sleep tonight.

We're all of us lucky, really.

kyra said...

After reading the scalzi post on what it means to be poor, I felt truly ashamed for ever having said out loud that I'm "poor." When truthfully, I'm far from it.

ccw said...

You have some truly wonderful students. It is heartwarming to see that she was able to change her perspective about her childhood.

I know I grew up poor, but I never felt poor and for that I am thankful.

halloweenlover said...

Your student sounds great. It is so true, though. I also remember my childhood and I remember feeling so poor, but poor compared to what is described in that sentence is NOTHING.