Tag Archives: Books

Creating Hospitable Spaces

I love books. I love books and independent bookstores and used bookstores. I love reading and learning. I love being challenged by what I’m learning, or feeling my horizons expand. I love getting so deep into the notes and references and traveling wherever they take me, to other books and other authors. I love when books I’ve read are sources for other books, when writers I respect mention other writers I respect.

It was that love that drew me to BooksActually last weekend, one of Singapore’s independent bookstores. BooksActually is particularly special because it also operates its own publishing house, making it the go-to destination for books that are truly Singaporean and might not have a significance audience elsewhere. This is where I found I Will Survive, an anthology of stories from Singapore’s LGBTQ community. While much in the book touched me, it was a line in the foreword that first got me thinking. Juliana Toh writes, “I was left thinking of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out, in which relationships are viewed as contexts for the creation of hospitable experiences.” This particular way of defining relationships was new to me and I found the idea of “hospitable” really compelling. Maybe it was because we’d just started school and my students were on my mind, or maybe it was because I was reading about LGBTQ young people, but I immediately extrapolated from Toh’s statement and began to wonder what our schools would look like if we moved from creating “safe spaces” for young people to creating “hospitable spaces” instead.

The word “hospitable” has two definitions:

  1. friendly and welcoming to visitors or guests
  2. (of an environment) pleasant and favorable for living in

It seems reasonable that a hospitable space would inherently be a safe one because anywhere that is “pleasant and favorable for living in” implies safety. I think this idea fits really well in the context of school settings. After all, school is where young people spend most of their time and we know that we all do better when we feel comfortable.

Take a moment to consider what we want for the young people in our care. We want them to learn, to grow, to explore. We want them to feel good, at ease, and valued as individuals. We want them to connect to each other, to create, and to become their best selves. We want them to see and care for those around them and we want them to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Doing this work requires that our students feel more than safe, which is currently what we tout as a goal for our schools and classrooms. A learning environment in which the above aims can be realized would be closer to “pleasant and favorable” than safe.

In my eight years teaching, my classroom has always been a place where students wander in and out during breaks and before school and where they stop by after school to chat about a variety of things. Like the rest of us, students spend time in places that they enjoy, places that are welcoming and pleasant and where they feel affirmed, or perhaps part of a community.

So what would schools look like if we explicitly focused on creating hospitable spaces rather than safe spaces? The biggest difference, I think, would be in the ways we approach students as individuals. The goal of safe spaces is to provide a protective, inclusive environment that embraces diversity on a range of levels. I wonder, though, what would happen if we started emphasizing the need for welcoming, pleasant spaces instead of merely safe ones. A space can be safe without being welcoming, pleasant, and favorable, but places that are favorable to us, places we want to be, will more than likely also be safe.

As a reader, I’m a believer in the power of language. George Orwell’s 1984 does a better job illustrating this than I could, so I refer you there. Now, let’s pretend “hospitable space” was a common phrase used to talk about schools, an idea accepted and embraced by the school community.

Creating hospitable spaces would require all involved to treat one another, at the minimum, as individuals with dignity. It would require authentic communication and connection, which would foster an environment in which adults and young people work together towards common goals and in which each learns from and guides the other. A hospitable space would be positive, energizing, and a place where we all enjoy spending time. It would be flexible, open-ended, exploratory, creative. It would be a space where we grow as individuals and as a community, a space where we’d recognize first our common humanity and then the diversity that makes us each who we are.

Imagine the learning that would happen in this hospitable space.

Moving Forward
Of course, not all of us work in school and with students. But we all develop relationships with others, whether friends or colleagues or romantic partners. We all want to feel loved, affirmed, and valued. We want to grow and help others grow, to become better tomorrow than we are today.

All relationships take on colors, flavors, and textures. All relationships are built inside a metaphoric space. So let that space be hospitable. Let yourself be open to others. All of our lives are better when we can take a breath and know that someone else is doing the same.

Psst, I published a book!

To be precise, I self-published an e-book! And within a few days, there will be a paperback version, too!

Those familiar with my writing on education already know that peacebuilding is really important to me. It is the way I believe we will be able to make the world a better place. I’ve written extensively about how this can be done in classrooms with students, but I’ve also realized that much of my writing on acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding oneself relates to peacebuilding, as well. We must live peacefully if we want to build a world that is peaceful.

In the book, I explain my own journey to understand what peace means and what it means to live peacefully. Then, I outline how peacebuilding can become a focal point of the work we do with young people. Though I focus on education that takes place in schools, this discussion is by no means restricted to formal schooling and can easily be applied to parenting and informal educational environments.

If we want to make the world a better place, we need to start with peace. Peace begins in our beliefs, attitudes, and identities, which influence the way we approach others. Acting peacefully, towards others and ourselves, is essential to develop a world that is better than the one we have today.

Please click here to find this e-book (and soon-to-be paperback) on Amazon. As always, I welcome any and all feedback. Thank you so much for your support!

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My 2017 Reading List

Another year gone and more books in the, well, book! My list of 2016 reads sparked some conversation with people in my life and finally convinced me to get on Goodreads, so I wanted to share this year’s list, too. The lists are in alphabetical order by title and grouped into nonfiction and fiction categories.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
Robert Sapolsky

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Steven Pinker

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Blended: Using Disruptive Education to Improve Schools
Michael Horn and Heather Staker

Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
Dacher Keltner

Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education
Nel Noddings

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror
Thomas Ligotti

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Courage to Be
Paul Tillich

Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education
Martha Nussbaum

Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education
John Dewey

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life
Susan David

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
Chris Hedges

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability
Todd May

Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
Thich Nhat Hanh

The Hero Handbook
Nate Green

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly

A History of Reading
Alberto Manguel

A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Tom Standage

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari

How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place
Bjørn Lomborg

The Importance of What We Care About
Henry Frankfurt

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Max Tegmark

Machine Learning: The Ultimate Beginners Guide For Neural Networks, Algorithms, Random Forests and Decision Trees Made Simple
Ryan Roberts

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future
Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tails
Oliver Sacks

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Richard Thaler

Modern Romance
Aziz Ansari

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
George Lakoff

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
Joshua Greene

Moving Toward Global Compassion
Paul Ekman

On Dialogue
David Bohm

On Tyranny: Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Timothy Snyder

One Student at a Time: Leading the Global Education Movement
Fernando Reimers

Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind & its Challenge to Western Thought
George Lakoff

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
Francis Fukuyama

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever
edited by Christopher Hitchens

Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs
Henry Carroll

Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Joseph Aoun

A Room of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari

The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction
Mark Lilla

Simone Weil: An Anthology
Simone Weil

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Nick Bostrom

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman

The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Chogyam Trungpa and Francesca Fremantle

We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Cathy O’Neil

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami

What’s Worth Teaching?: Rethinking Curriculum in the Age of Technology
Allan Collins

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Nancy Isenberg

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
Robert Wright

The Wisdom of Insecurity
Alan Watts

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
Kory Stamper

World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students
Yong Zhao

2 B R 0 2 B – Kurt Vonnegut
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
Last Night in Twisted River – John Irving
Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
The Nun’s Story – Kathryn Hulme
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Three Muskateers – Alexandre Dumas
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

As the year turns over, I wish you a 2018 full of peace, joy, and good books. Happy reading!