Category: One Sentence

One Sentence #5: Uniquely Human

One Sentence #5: Uniquely Human

I recently finished Dr. Barry Prizant’s wonderful Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism. In the first chapter – entitled “Ask Why?” – Prizant details the “behavioral-assessment approach” to autism. He describes this approach as “using a checklist of deficits” and “treat[ing] the person as a problem to be solved rather than an individual to be understood.” Prizant does not consider this approach effective, instead offering the following recommendation:

What’s more helpful is to dig deeper: to ask what is motivating these behaviors, what is underlying these patterns.

For Prizant, only by first understanding a person with autism can you begin to help that person. Uniquely Human offers a great overview of the challenges that people with autism face and how to support them through these challenges, but Prizant never treats autism as something to be overcome. Instead, Prizant shows incredible respect and love for the people with autism that he’s known and shares so many examples of amazing individuals who have thrived as much because of their autism as in spite of it. This is a powerful book, and I strongly recommend you check it out.

One Sentence #4: Breakfast of Champions

One Sentence #4: Breakfast of Champions

I love Kurt Vonnegut, and although there’s a lot to love in Breakfast of Champions, I have mixed feelings about the book.

His high school was named after a slave owner who was also one of the world’s greatest theoreticians on the subject of human liberty.

This sentence illustrates what I love about Vonnegut: his ability to put in clear terms the absurdities and paradoxes of our world. Earlier in the book, Vonnegut puts the lie to a fact known to so many American children – that America was discovered in 1492. Of course, as Vonnegut writes, “millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives” in America then. Instead, 1492 “was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill” the indigenous Americans.

For all it does to counter false narratives and question American racism, however, I think Breakfast of Champions ultimately falls flat because of problematic language (especially use of the “N” word) and underdeveloped characters of color (Wayne Hoobler). And even if I could ignore those flaws (which I really can’t), neither the plot nor the theme are strong enough for me to consider Breakfast of Champions a great book.

Current Vonnegut Rankings:

  1. The Sirens of Titan
  2. Slaughterhouse-Five
  3. Player Piano
  4. Breakfast of Champions
  5. Cat’s Cradle
One Sentence #3: Untangled

One Sentence #3: Untangled

Here’s a quote from Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour:

Discipline should always come with the opportunity to make things right again.

As the title suggests, Untangled is all about supporting girls as they develop into adults. A girl who is contending with adult authority, one of Damour’s seven transitions, might disregard an adult’s instructions and do something inappropriate. A correct response will, of course, involve some sort of discipline, but the discipline needs to be more than simply punishment. It needs to include a learning opportunity, a chance to correct a mistake and grow.

I really enjoyed Untangled. Damour’s perspective as a clinical psychologist who works with teenage girls helped me think about my students in a different way. I look forward to applying new ideas and insights in my future work with my students.

One Sentence #2: Friday Black

One Sentence #2: Friday Black

It’s been a few months since I read Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. I picked it up because I was looking for a collection of short stories by a Black author that would be appropriate for middle schoolers. This is NOT that collection. Here’s why:

The court had ruled that because the children were basically loitering and not actually inside the library reading, as one might expect of productive members of society, it was reasonable that Dunn had felt threatened by these five black young people and, thus, he was well within his rights when he protected himself, his library-loaned DVDs, and his children by going into the back of his Ford F-150 and retrieving his Hawtech PRO eighteen-inch 48cc chain saw.

The chainsaw was to cut their heads off. Seriously. This first story (“The Finkelstein 5”) left me feeling sick, not so much because of its violence, but because of how horrifyingly plausible it felt. Brutally intense, powerful, and necessary, the stories in Friday Black speak to the horrific violence that Black Americans face every day.