Putting a Stop to the Vicious Circle

The top result for vicious circle when searching on Google is the following definition, “a sequence of reciprocal cause and effect in which two or more elements intensify and aggravate each other, leading inexorably to a worsening of the situation.” So many issues involving hate, prejudice, and stereotypes seem to be part of one or more vicious circles. In contrast to another colloquialism, the chicken-or-egg situation, many of our social vicious circles have a clear starting point.

In A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, fear and prejudice definitely begin with many white Americans assuming that because the protagonist Shirin wears a hijab, she is part of a terrorist movement. This book takes place in 2002, a year after the events of September 11, a time when many Muslims were treated with suspicion and sometimes violently attacked because of a false understanding of their faith (although this situation is still common today). Shirin does not fear that she will be targeted because of her hijab, she expects it and is always ready to respond. She ends up believing that anyone who looks at her or speaks to her is automatically against her.

This changes, however, when she starts at a new school and meets Ocean, a boy who seems to fit into all of the categories that Shirin associates with prejudice: white, not Muslim, etc. Eventually, Shirin makes a realization, “I’d been so determined not to be stereotyped that I’d begun to stereotype everyone around me” (110). This is not an unusual or unnatural occurrence. Fear and anger toward a group tend to make that group fearful and angry. Raising consciousness seems to be one of the most effective ways to prevent a vicious circle from being created.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is, above all else, a love story. The depiction of Shirin and Ocean’s romance is sweet and explored through a first person point of view that uncovers tender emotions. The book also is a call for all of us to be more aware of how we relate to and learn from one another. Shirin is an outspoken voice for individuality within an identity group and her words will impact readers long after they reach the last page.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 3: I know that all my group identities and the intersection of those identities create unique aspects of who I am and that this is true for other people too.

Diversity 7: I have the language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including myself) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

SL.1- Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

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