My son, a junior in high school, is taking a course entitled “Shared Voices,” an integrated class that brings together American History and American Literature, so that what students read for English is reflected in what they study in history. I love the whole idea of this course, as the separation of disciplines often leads students away from the integration that would make each subject even more relevant and meaningful. When I was buying my son’s texts for the semester, I was excited by the reading list and offered to read the books at the same time in case he wanted to talk about them outside of class.
The first book he was assigned was Dave Eggers’, Zeitoun, the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American with a successful contracting and painting business in New Orleans. During Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun chose to stay behind as the city’s populace, and his own family, evacuated. He did so not only out of stubbornness, but to protect the many properties they owned and were responsible for.
Zeitoun found himself feeling alive and purposeful as never before as he used his canoe to rescue people during the days following the flooding of the city and fed the dogs left behind in people’s homes. After a week of this heroism, Zeitoun and three others at his home were falsely arrested and brought to a newly erected jail at the Greyhound Bus Station. Zeitoun, not only completely innocent, but also the kind of man who should serve as a model of integrity, compassion, and honesty to us all, was abused and mistreated in ways that not only defy our core American values but our stated system of jurisprudence. The book serves as a wake up call to all those who assume our legal and punitive systems are relatively fail-safe and humane.
The book was captivating, enraging, inspiring, motivating, a profoundly important read, and a perfect example of humane education in action – bringing something deeply relevant and important into the study of history and English, igniting critical, and hopefully creative thinking, as the students grapple with the complexities of our modern society, government, religious freedom, incarceration and punishment, the military and legal systems and their potential breakdowns, intolerance and stereotypes, and most importantly, everyday heroism which lies at the core of this book in the character of Zeitoun.
As a newly published book there is no option for reading CliffsNotes, no likelihood that students will fail to engage with the text or the subject. Instead there are two teachers and a supportive high school who have crafted a course to awaken, inspire, enlighten, engage, and help make meaningful the critical study of both American literature and history. Every American should read this book. I’m just so happy my son is reading it in school.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education, Most Good, Least Harm and Claude and Medea
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Filed under: books, citizen activism, compassion, courage, discrimination, education, heroes, humane education, justice, values | Tagged: books, education, history, humane education, Hurricane Katrina, injustice, intolerance, language arts, legal system, ordinary heroes, schooling | Comments Off