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Becoming 'friends of someone else's mind'

Becoming 'friends of someone else's mind'

We learn that the English major who killed 30 people in Virginia before killing himself had submitted stories that alerted teachers to his anger and depression. Don Rothman is a writing teacher and knows that students' essays often reveal their inner demons. She sometimes wonders what to do with her complex feelings of sadness and shock as she put down a paper full of anguish and tragedy.

I want students to engage their imaginations, not selfishly or solipsistically, but in concert with developing a relationship with their readers, who are often other students in class as well as me. I keep inviting them to create a temporary, mindful community. As Maxine Greene, professor emerita at Columbia University's Teachers College, puts it, I want students "to become a friend of someone else' mind".

Sure, I'm idealistic, but I believe that it is through our imagination that we awaken our empathy for other people. And, like Greene, I believe that democracy depends on that empathy. There's a lot at stake. There are no guarantees that in learning to write we will become better people. It isn't that easy.

This article appeared in the April 29, 2007 edition of the Santa Cruz 

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