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Juniors and Seniors Lead Thoughtful Discussions at Summer Reading Symposium
Julian Corbett

Juniors and seniors took part in the annual Summer Reading Symposium last week, continuing a longstanding tradition in the Prep School. Over the summer, students read at least one book from a list of titles compiled by their teachers, with topics as varied as historical fiction, memoir, true crime and sociology. This year’s list focused on themes of race, diversity and perspective. “Many of the books looked into lives from different worlds and cultures, yet others asked students to consider different ways of thinking or a fresh look at something familiar,” said English department head Glenn Cramer.

Titles on this year’s list were: Circe by Madeleine Miller; Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi; Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald; Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat; Bad Science: Hacks, Quacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre; Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann; and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.

On Tuesday afternoon, students broke into groups for in-depth discussions on their summer reading selections. Blindspot drew one of the larger crowds, with nearly 90 students in attendance. The book – written by two psychologists who teach at Harvard and the University of Washington – explores the authors’ research on the impact of unconscious biases on behavior, particularly with regard to race. Prep School Director Joanie Dean, who led the conversation, remarked on the book’s timely message. Noting that CGPS faculty also read the book over the summer, Ms. Dean observed that Blindspot had reminded her that learning about oneself is an ongoing process. “I have learned that I am always learning,” she said. “As students, you know that you do that, and it’s important for us as teachers to do that as well.”

In all the groups, students brought insightful commentary to the Symposium, showing how thoughtfully they had engaged with their summer reading. In the group for The Book of Unknown Americans, students analyzed the novel’s portrayal of an immigrant community in the context of current US immigration policy. Discussing Killers of the Flower Moon, which chronicles a series of unprosecuted murders of Osage Nation members in the 1920s, students posed questions about the fairness of a legal system that fails to protect all its subjects equally.

Back in the Blindspot group, students shared the insights they had gained from reading the book. Reflecting on what the book revealed to them about their own assumptions and biases, they considered how they could put their learning into practice. “Maybe you didn’t know you had these biases, but you can’t make any progress until you check,” one student said. Another student agreed: “You have to recognize the problem before you can solve it.” 

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