Open Hearts, Open Minds

By: Bryan Geary and Michael Landroche

Over the summer of 2021, Tilton School invited students and other community members to read The Hate U Give, a novel by Angie Thomas about a teenage girl who grapples with issues of racism, police brutality, and activism. Veteran teacher Mike Landroche led a small group of department chairs and students in the process of constructing a student summer reading & writing experience with the Thomas novel.

Earlier this fall, Landroche sat down to contextualize the experience and its broader meaning regarding Tilton’s approach to teaching and learning.

What is the goal of the annual summer reading project?
Mike Landroche: Summer reading at Tilton has taken many different forms, but each iteration has been based on two hopes: First, if we invite our students to remain intellectually engaged during the summer, they will join us. We don’t want them to see June, July and August as a vacation from being thoughtful, reflective participants in their own progress as learners, as readers, as critical thinkers, as creative problem solvers, and as mindful respondents to the issues within and surrounding their communities. Second, shared experiences bring us closer. Reading a novel together, thinking about it together, and talking about it together, brings the whole community together.

What is the significance of this novel?
ML: Well, first, we considered many different nominations for this summer’s project including Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, and Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, but after getting some feedback from campus students and adults, the clear choice was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. As the third most challenged book in 2020, The Hate U Give is also significant. By the way, our 9th graders also read a book called All American Boys that happens to be the seventh most challenged book, and the Tony Morrison novel, The Bluest Eye, that’s the 10th most challenged. Tilton School has made a decision that we’re not going to back away from helping each other negotiate and navigate our way through the politics of race and gender and ethnicity. Obviously, the politics of power, the politics of justice, apply to more than race. Tilton has made a commitment to deepen its understanding of the politics of ethnicity, gender, wealth, and other measures of human difference.

“Reading a novel together, thinking about it together, and talking about it together, brings the whole community together.”

What were some of the most powerful moments for you, observing our students navigate this text?
ML: So many. When I talk with 9th graders, I see that they are so willing to go with us and have a conversation, always being mindful that one can be honest and respectful at the same time. Their ability to balance being honest by being respectful of the others in the room; they’re so good at that. I also work with a lot of 12th graders and postgraduates. At the beginning of school, we had 45 minutes together to set the stage for how the English Department would be handling the novel in class. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so impressed by their awareness of the issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our conversations throughout the fall have always acknowledged that the issues raised in the novel are political, that speaking honestly about them will require courage, and to voice one’s thoughts courageously and respectfully signals real growth.

What do you take away from this experience?
ML: Meeting with the 12th graders during orientation and into the fall has just made me so hopeful. We as a community are learning to not just be respectful but also to be curious about the other’s experience. Our reckoning with social injustice and our willingness to walk boldly into conversations across campus has opened our eyes, our minds, and our hearts.