supportA Must-Have Book if You Want to Understand

If you’ve never read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, go buy a copy and read it. You’ll understand the word support if you do. You’ll understand a hugely underrepresented and misunderstood slice of the population by the time you reach the last page.

I read the book (along with Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Story by Jim Kristofic) before I interviewed for my current job. I thought I understood teenagers—after all, I’ve worked with them for over twenty years. Teach an unruly group of adolescents? No problem. Take on a room full of twitchy junior high students who don’t speak English? Piece of cake.

Understand one of the basic problems tormenting Native American young adults? I had no clue until I read Alexie’s book. Do you wonder why I think you should read a book about a kid on the Spokane Indian Reservation? It has to do with support.

A Life-Changing Look at Support

In the book, Junior (the protagonist), gets suspended from school for chucking a textbook across the classroom. The textbook thwacks a teacher in the face. The next day, the teacher, Mr. P, shows up on Junior’s doorstep. Junior figures the teacher wants to berate him for losing his temper.

After talking for a few minutes, the teacher turns to Junior and says,

“I want you to say it,” Mr. P said.

“Say what?”

“I want you to say that you deserve better.”

I couldn’t say it. It wasn’t true. I mean, I wanted to have it better, but I didn’t deserve it. I was the kid who threw books at teachers.

“You are a good kid. You deserve the world.”

At this point in the story, I start to cry—just like Junior does when he hears a white adult tell him he deserves the world.

Junior cries because no teacher has ever said anything nice to him like that before.

I cry because as a teacher, I realize that all too often I forget to say nice things to my students. In the busyness of teaching, cat-herding, and trying to incite young minds to want to think, I forget to offer basic human support.

I forget to encourage my students with those basic words. “You deserve the world. I believe in you. You can do it.” Rez kids don’t hear that. They don’t grow up with a positive attitude about their rosy future served up in a bottle of designer baby formula.

No kid is hopeless case, but in many cases, they don’t have hope. #fmfparty Click To Tweet

They come from broken homes. Sometimes, they don’t eat because no one buys food for them. They grow up thinking that they don’t deserve much of anything. No one tells them, “You need to study algebra because you’ll need it for college one day.”

And so, I’ve learned a lot about support. Verbal support, emotional support, and prayer support. No kid is hopeless case, but in many cases, they don’t have hope.

Just Do It

So go out an buy the book (affiliate link). I should warn you, Alexie writes for a young adult, secular audience. I only blushed  once. Alexie keeps it pretty clean, but it also tells it like it is.