Jack read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made an important connection. In a journal entry he wrote:
It is just the start of the novel, but I can already feel sympathy for Jim; living during that time as a colored person must have been absolutely awful. I can’t imagine anyone treating anyone like that, but then again, I was raised in a different time.
Whether a student is in elementary school or college, keeping a journal is a useful way to remember what happens in life. It’s also a way to track learning and process complex themes and issues like race and social justice.
In this journal entry, Jack related his learning to his life. Most importantly, he examined his own values. The journal allowed him to articulate what I am trying to teach; in today’s world we must respect one another and our common humanity. Civility is critical in a democracy.
It’s common sense that everyone shares the same feelings, so why shouldn’t you follow the golden rule and treat everyone as you would want to be treated? I suppose I’ll never be able to answer that question, but it really makes me feel disgusted that I am a descendant of such hate.
In my literature and philosophy class, I require students to record their thoughts after each class meeting, reflecting on discussions or on new skills they master. It is the student’s perspective on the meaning of his or her learning that day.
Their written voices offer a brief qualitative study of what young people think about social justice, racism, diversity and hateful language. I’ve seen it duplicated many times.
In addition to giving kids the chance to vent their emotions, journals help students gain a fresh perspective about the world. If you can take a long, hard look at your own behavior, you have a chance to grow emotionally and intellectually.
As a college freshman, Molly discovered a lot about herself and her suburban upbringing when she reflected on Le Chambon, the French town in southern France that rescued Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. She wrote:
I thought it was really interesting that this whole town banded together to save these people. They were extremely accepting of other religions, even though they were fully devoted to their own. This is pretty amazing because many people struggle with this type of tolerance and approval of others.
Molly is beginning to examine her own perspective about her world and diversity.
Coming from a town where the diversity between religions and race is slim to none, many of the people there become very judgmental and even prejudiced … I hope that by coming to Roger Williams University and exposing myself to other types of people, I can become more open-minded and expand my horizons to what other people have to offer.
Another benefit of journaling is that it helps students put their feelings on paper when they have an unsettling experience for the first time. They can grow by being honest with themselves about how incidents affect them.
Ann did this when she wrote about racism and the use of the n-word.
I surprisingly heard the use of the n-word in public a few days ago in the Commons, and the person who said this word was white. I have seen the word used multiple times on Internet sites such as Facebook. People of color will use this word sometimes to converse on Facebook, but I have never heard someone … who is white use the n-word in a conversation with negative connotations until two days ago. It is people like this person I heard who make me realize racism still exists, and that this one word can actually have a strong effect on people, whether they are white or black. I don’t know who the person was who used the ‘n’ word, but I was very upset that he did.
Ann’s emotional reaction to the event demonstrates how journaling lets students explore their sensitivities.
Simply put, journaling has numerous benefits. It helps students expand their horizons, gain perspective on their worlds, and in my writing and literature courses, face their feelings about social justice, diversity and racism.
Franks is a professor in Rhode Island.