Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

A Story for Your Syllabus

How do we know what we know? How do we teach? How do we learn? As parents, teachers, students, and life-long learners, these are the questions that beg for answers. 

What works for me are stories. Narratives filled with rich detail about how people have experienced the world around us. Stories have the power to not only to teach, but to engage and in our world of multi-tasking distraction, this is half the battle.

I cannot remember how I first learned about Timothy Black's book,

When a Heart Turns Rock Solid

, but my Amazon account records show that I bought the book on October 17, 2013. The book sat on one shelf in my home, and then another, quietly waiting. I finally began to read it on the plane to Denmark last August.  Since then, the book has been living on the the small blue table next to my bed in the two-room cottage I am renting in 

Vanløse, patiently sharing its story on the nights I managed to read a few pages before drifting off to sleep. Yesterday, when I finally sat on the couch with this book and read the final chapter, the Rivera brothers were there with me, nodding off, cracking jokes, and telling me like it is.

This is a book about one Puerto Rican family living in the Hartford-Springfield area written by a critical sociologist who is unabashedly political and opinionated. It may not be the truth, but it is a truth. About drugs, incarceration, police, neoliberalism, the mortgage crisis, urban education, racism, labor, family, and the persistent hope of the human spirit.  You could try to learn or teach about these phenomenon through textbooks and journal articles, but I don't know why you would. This story not only explicates and illustrates these complicated concepts, but it also manages to keep you entertained and entranced by these real-life characters. Put it on your syllabus.