October 2012

Approximately two (2) years ago LaSalle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, integrated a Student Discussion Blog as their summer reading requirement.  Our English Department identified that our students were more likely to be enthusiastic and develop “ownership” to their “Summer Reading” requirement if they selected a book of interest and one that they could easily relate to.  Our current faculty also has many different and diverse interests, therefore, we all were asked to select a book of personal interest to add to the student Summer Reading selections.  Here our students were offered the opportunity to identify a common interest with their teacher.

Since I am a horse owner, an avid horseback rider, and thoroughly enjoy reading books on this topic; I decided to investigate, explore, and read several books that would be appropriate for our students to read—and at the same time—inspire them.  The book that inspired me the most was The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation, written by Elizabeth Letts.  (more…)

I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told. When I was told that writing novels should only ever be a hobby, that having children would make it impossible to find time to write, that writing a novel was something I should never aim for, not really, I simply didn’t listen. I crept out of bed at 5 am and wrote, every day, even if I’d been up all night nursing a sick child, so tired my eyes were only half open. On those days, in fact, my writing was the best. I thought of my characters all the time and even dreamed of them. After a few months I had something to look at, some writing, words that might just one day turn into a novel.

“You should write what you know,” said people, when they realized my dream was not going to disappear. “Write your life, stick to a simple story for your first book. Write an easy story.” Again, I didn’t listen. I fell in love with a man and his country: Nigeria. The story belonged in Nigeria, and to Blessing, a twelve-year-old Nigerian girl. I listened to the voice of my then thirteen-year-old, how she used language in nonsensical ways, how she saw the world around her. Blessing, my main character, began talking to me. I wrote about politics, gender, violence, religion, humanity. I asked questions and explored in my novel things that I didn’t understand and wanted answers to: race, culture, belonging, and identity, what it is to be human, how it feels to grow up too quickly. (more…)

When I was 18, I was in a car accident: a girl swerved in front of my car, I couldn’t avoid her, and she died. I moved soon afterward, and so this crash and its aftermath made up the secret I carried around for 18 years. Until I wrote Half a Life.

40,000 die on US roads every year. And with every accident, somebody walks away feeling he’s put on the executioner’s hood. That’s one reason Half a Life has resonated with so many people. But it’s not the only reason, I’ve come to realize.

When I decided to write this story—the story of me and of the girl who died that day—I don’t think I understood how universal other people would find it; I was just writing what had happened to me. But very soon, I realized this story threw huge shadows. Excerpted in GQ and on This American Life, as well as in The Times of London, The Daily Mail (UK) and numerous other publications in the US and around the world, Half a Life ended up having real valence for a great many people. I’ve received probably over a thousand emails from readers who have wanted to share their own stories: a man who blames himself because he didn’t take his mother’s threats seriously and therefore left for boarding school the day before her suicide; a number of soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder; people who have suffered horrible personal loss; and, of course, many car accident survivors. (more…)

When I was in the 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Wilson seated us around the room in I.Q. order. Only the highest IQ students were allowed to erase the blackboard or carry the flag in the school assembly. Mrs. Wilson believed that your IQ score embodied not just your inborn intelligence, but your character as well. This was my first and most powerful experience with the fixed mindset—the idea that your traits are fixed and that they define you. I have devoted my life to liberating students from this mindset.

Mindset introduces students to a body of research they can use in their lives, especially during this time when challenges are coming at them from every direction. Students struggle with work that is much harder than anything they’ve done before, are in an environment that may seem less supportive and nurturing than before, and. . . . they have to think about college! On top of this, new social challenges (and setbacks) constantly occur. In this context, students find the growth mindset—the idea that your qualities can be developed over time—to be critical to their adjustment. In fact, they often tell me that they use the growth mindset principles on a daily basis to rise to challenges and take on new ones. (more…)