Friday, September 26, 2014

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

I recently joined a book club.  I love book clubs.  They make me happy.  There are two main reasons that I love book clubs:

1) I love all things BOOK.  I was an English teacher for a reason.  If we allow it, literature expands our minds and we are able to learn so much through others' written experiences.  In a book club, I'm exposed to books that I, perhaps, wouldn't normally pick up on my own.  I am able to share with others my thoughts, but more valuable to me is hearing what everyone else has to say.

2) As all the book clubs I've ever been a part of have been all women, it's some good Girl Time away from my daily stuff.  I love being a mom.  But let's get real.  A good discussion about books is not a part of my daily routine.  Book Club is great Me time that helps fill my vessel.

So, The Water is Wide was the first book I read for our new book club.  I liked it.  I really did.  Maybe, oh, 3 out of 4 stars.  I put it down thinking, "Oh, that was good."  But for some reason it's not among my list of books that I tell people, "You must read this!"  I'm not sure why it wasn't bumped up to that list for me, but it wasn't.  It was a great story, based on Pat Conroy's life experience, of a teacher (Conroy) who teaches on an island.  The children he teaches are impoverished African American children whose education has been pathetically neglected.  There is a school, yes.  But this school definitely does NOT meet the standards of any type of school we would now expect.  But back in 1969, Yamacraw Island and her struggling children were so easily overlooked.  Conroy comes to the island, ready to make a difference.  Time after time he is faced with challenges...that ultimately lead to his dismissal.  Yes.  The school board fires him.

We have the idealistic teacher.
We have the children who are neglected.
We have the children who don't care that their education has been neglected.
And the few children who do, and begin to absorb this new thing called learning.

And then there's the black teacher/principal, Mrs. Brown, who is too scared to make any white man with authority angry that she paralyzes herself.  There was a line at the end of the book when Conroy suggests that Mrs. Brown, is perhaps, the most tragic of the people involved in the story.  I agree.  She created her own prison built on insecurity and fear.  She knows better.  She sees the possibilities.  But she will not go against the Board because they hold the power.

She makes me think.

Because I was born in a middle class white home, and education was a priority, I'll never be like those kids on the island.  I have compassion for them, but I will never be like them.

I'm not like Dr. Piedmont, the all mighty man who sits on top and directs the board how he'd like.  I'm just not.  Our perspectives are too different.

Maybe I am a touch like Pat Conroy.  I have a desire to help others.  Sometimes, maybe, unrealistically.  After all, that is one reason we fundraise every year.  Yes, for Sammy, but we want to help make a difference in our community...if only bit by bit.

But Mrs. Brown.  She's scary because I wonder if there are times in my life when I'm like her...and I don't want to be like her.  Are there times when I build my own walls of I don't say anything, I don't stand up for something, I don't think outside the box...or, more likely, I DO but then don't act on it?  No matter what level it's on, I want to always have that confidence to do what needs to be done.  At times, it may mean following orders...but am I brave enough to know when to stand up when others are sitting?

Great book.  Made me think a lot about education, racism, poverty, and overall character.

Glad I read it.  Glad I'm in this book club.

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