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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Wakanheza Project Principle 3--Powerlessness

It is time for this week's installment about The Wakanheza Project™, and the principle we will explore today is powerlessness. According to The Wakanheza Project Agency, Business and Community Organizing Guide:

"The Initiative's violence prevention work has been built on the belief that many acts of violence arise from feeling a sense of powerlessness. When viewed through this lens, our perceptions of other people's actions at times of high stress can change immediately. Rather than viewing a stressed mother or father as a bad parent, or a young person as threatening, recognizing that the person(s) may be feeling isolated, threatened or powerless in that moment can help us to better udnerstand an respond effectively in those situations. Suggesting that acts of violence often arise from a sense of powerlessness is in no way meant to excuse violent and hurtful behavior. However, this perspective can help each of us understand what may be underlying these stressful moments, and help to develop strategies that can frequently be effective for preventing and successfully de-escalating these situations."

At the training I attended last month, one of the libraries talked about a situation where a mother, who was hearing impaired, came to the library regularly with her 4 children. The oldest kids went to the children's room, but the youngest was too young to be on her own, and had to stay with mom at the Internet station. The child never wanted to stay with her mother, and the mother was increasingly angry, frustrated, yelling, and grabbing her child roughly to make sure she did what she was supposed to do.

Staff was very troubled by this, and spent several weeks trying to figure out how to handle the situation. Eventually, 2 staff people approached the mother, and asked her to come into a quiet meeting room to talk. The mother's first response was to be very angry with the staff, but they told her that they were both moms, and understood that it can be hard sometimes. The woman immediately began to cry--telling them this was her only chance to do something for herself, don't even ask about her husband, and indicating how isolated and powerless she felt. The staff said they really wanted her to be able to continue using the library, and saw how important it was to her, but that they needed to come up with a solution to make the situation better, since it couldn't continue the way it was going.

They asked her if she had any ideas. She didn't have any right away, but when staff suggested some ideas (maybe start out the day in the children's room for a while, so the youngest child has a chance to play, and then use the computer for 1/2 hour at a time--the staff would help make sure she was able to go back to a computer and she wouldn't have to lose her chance) the woman was relieved and receptive.

Wow! Excellent illustration of this principle. Having the staff diffuse things by mentioning they also were moms and understood how hard it can be sometimes really allowed this mother a chance to let down her guard and get some help dealing with a situation that can't have been pleasant for her, either.

Monday, June 13, 2011

YA Literature Kerfuffle

Many of you have probably already heard about the article in the Wall Street Journal last week by Meghan Cox Gurdon, Darkness Too Visible. It seems that every few years, there is an influential op-ed piece that decries the horrors of current YA literature, and this article is the most recent. In it, the author expresses dismay that the current crop of literature for teens is unrelentingly dark, with themes of abuse, mental illness, vampires, self-mutilation, with nothing for teens (or more likely parents) who don't want this sort of thing. The article starts by describing a mother's experience in a Barnes and Noble, where she was unable to find anything that isn't depressing or violent or filled with other objectionable content.

Obviously, this woman should have gone to a library, where any of you could have pulled out 10-20 books on the spot that would have fit her needs. But I feel sorry for her daughter--what if the right book at the right time for her is not sweet enough for her mother's taste? Cecil Castellucci has a great response in the LA Times, where, among other things, she points out that giving a kid a book that grabs them "is kind of like giving that kid superpowers. Because one book leads to the next book and the next book and the next book and that is how a world-view grows. That is how you nourish thought."

Or the NPR Monkey See Monkey Do post by Linda Holmes, who said, among other things: "It's difficult to say to a teenager, 'We don't even let you read about anyone who cuts herself; it's that much of a taboo. But by all means, if you're cutting yourself, feel free to tell a trusted adult.'"

I had the pleasure of spending some time this weekend with some smart, witty, and very well read teens who had read Gurdon's article and a few of the responses to it. They were irritated by the article, and enjoyed the responses. Many jokes about the depravity that YA literature has inspired in them were made (accidentally poked the dog? Must be all those dark YA books you read!)

There is a whole twitter hashtag devoted to this topic: #yasaves. Here are a few other worthwhile responses to consider:

I have found the discussion interesting, and I wonder if you do too? What do you think about all of this? Do you have enough on your shelf to offer to kids who aren't interested in dark and gritty themes? Do you see the positive impact of books of all types on the kids you work with? What else? What else??