An Episcopal, co-educational boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Dean of Teaching & Learning Elizabeth Roach

 

As teachers, we must believe and know that the work we’re doing with young people is essential, even when it’s challenging, even when we’re not sure of our impact on students.

Sometimes, however, we receive a wonderful gift of validation and affirmation that what we do as teachers matters, profoundly.

Read the beautiful words written by one of his students delivered to Tad in a handwritten letter yesterday:

I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated our English class. Personally, I loved reading this chapter. It was painful, yet so powerful to be able to, in a way, sympathize with all the struggles, and agony that black people had and still have to overcome in the United States and all over the world. Reading everything that Baldwin had to offer makes me realize how important literature is. It is something that could bring people together; each word holds a power that could absolutely change one person’s point of view.

To be honest, I have never read anything that could move me the way “The Fire Next Time” did. Before, I would have just skimmed through, taken notes on different pages without paying any attention to the meaning between each line. But yesterday, it was different. I read, reread, and reread again, trying to dig out the layer underneath. I did not rush through it, but I took my time. And it was the most amazing experience I had ever had. There were a couple lines that stood out to me, but this specific line was exceptional:

“No doubt I am guilty of some injustice here, but it is irreducible since I cannot risk assuming that the humanity of these people is more real to them than their uniforms. Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color.”

I cannot believe that after several decades, what Baldwin tries to communicate in this line still holds its truth—that most white people, somehow, still remain the same no matter how many protests, lectures, movements, have been made. And that no matter how much people of color try to rebuild the wall of justice and equality, white people are blatantly and unashamedly removing all the hard work, just so that history of white supremacy could continue on its already tainted path.

I asked myself several times: where is humanity in times like this—times of oppression, racism, homophobia, and a lot more problems? My community and other minorities have already done our best in restoring justice, but few positive consequences have taken place.

But the more I’m worried, the more I know that I’m now ready to use my everything and fight, together with everyone in this community, for the equality that we all deserve.

This letter enacts everything we strive for as teachers: deep engagement in the material, authentic resonance, powerful reflection, and a desire to take learning beyond the classroom. 

Our mission as teachers is about teaching and learning, but, more importantly and fundamentally, it is about humanity. It is about enlightenment and giving our students a passion to live with purpose and meaning. It is about awareness and justice and love.

  • Teaching and Learning Letters
Author Yaa Gyasi Visits Campus
Liz Torrey

 

We were thrilled to welcome author Yaa Gyasi to St. Andrew's via Zoom on Friday, April 2 Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanian-American novelist whose debut novel, Homegoing, is St. Andrew's all-school read for the 2020-2021 school year. Homegoing received the 2016 John Leonard Award for best first book from the National Book Critics Circle, the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award, and an American Book Award. During her visit to SAS, she talked with two groups of students, then held a reading and Q&A session, moderated by Dean of Diversity Education Devin Duprey, for the entire community.

For her reading, Gyasi read the opening chapter of her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, published in 2020. She then spent over an hour answering questions from students, faculty, alumni, and parents on the Zoom.

"I'm an alum of St. Andrew's," Duprey said as she began to moderate the Q&A, "and reading [Homegoing], I wished so much that I was able to have a book like this during my time at the school and to be able to read this in my English classes. I'm grateful that this generation of St Andrew's students have this book today." 

When asked by an alumnae—who noted that she herself was a "product of the Ghanaian diaspora myself, and I often feel like I can't quite fully claim any of the aspects of my identity"—if Gyasi ever felt anything like "imposter syndrome" while writing Homegoing, and if so, how she worked through it, Gyasi responded:

"You're singing my song. That's what I had felt my entire life [and] that was the reason I wanted to write this book. In some ways I'm always feeling as though I'm existing in an in-between space where I'm not sure how much I can claim [or] what it might look like to claim that identity and homegoing. [This feeling] certainly led to many, many nights of feeling imposter syndrome—many nights of wondering whether I could write this—not just not just if I had the skill to write this, but whether or not I have the permission to write this. Part of the way that I made sense of it, and part of the way that I gave myself permission, was the understanding that there are so many of us out there, like you, like me, who do feel this kind of dislocation, When we talk about diaspora as a family, this is part of what we're talking about. Homegoing was, in that way, kind of a healing process: I get to write myself into a lineage and a history that perhaps would have otherwise been denied to me. I recognize that there are probably plenty of Ghanaians who take issue with parts of the book, as there are plenty of African-Americans who might take issue with parts of the book. It's not going to satisfy everyone. It's not going to feel like everyone's history. But even with that, I think that the act of writing the book that you want to see—the book that you need to read—that in and of itself, I think, is is as much permissiveness as as anyone can need."

Gyasi met with a small group of students after the full-community event, and her final words to that smaller group, referenced Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, his memoir about growing up in West Baltimore. "She urged us to be aware of the weight of history we carry," noted Dean of Teaching & Learning Elizabeth Roach, who organized Gyasi's visit. "[She urged us] to keep struggling, to make the active decision to keep going and to keep fighting for justice—even when we don’t see the effects of our struggle, even when we don’t feel or see joy and hope. In fact, the struggle itself is the reward. The struggle itself is meaningful, is beautiful."

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Dean of Teaching & Learning Elizabeth Roach

 

In her final words to the small group of students she met with after the full community event last night, Yaa Gyasi referenced Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, the title of his memoir about growing up in West Baltimore. She urged us to be aware of the weight of history we carry, to keep struggling, to make the active decision to keep going and to keep fighting for justice—even when we don’t see the effects of our struggle, even when we don’t feel or see joy and hope. In fact, the struggle itself is the reward. The struggle itself is meaningful, is beautiful.

We see this beautiful struggle rendered in her characters in both Homegoing and Transcendent Kingdom. We see how they persist through personal and historical traumas, through devastating loss and grief, through injustice and degradation and oppression. We see her characters emerge from traumas seeking reconciliation and determined to reconstruct their lives. 

We remember the beautiful tribute Gyasi shared to her high school English teacher who always honored and inspired her with “armfuls” of books, ultimately igniting her extraordinary life she now lives. Education indeed must be that liberating, that transformational, that dynamic.

I want to thank everyone who made Yaa Gyasi’s visit a success: the students who asked such thoughtful questions and engaged so authentically; Jill Tora for her beautiful introduction; Devin Duprey for her artful moderating; Michael Amos and Liz Torrey for their technology expertise; Staci Seeley and Heather Williams for their partnership and support; and the English Department for their great teaching of Homegoing and preparation for the event. 

  • Teaching and Learning Letters