This morning I got up and like many saw the video clip of the teenagers circling a first nations elder in the United States as he demonstrated with a drum near the Lincoln Memorial. The boys are seen mocking him, smirking while invading his space trying to intimidate. This man, a veteran of the Vietnam war, was not intimidated by these boys as they chanted build the wall (this speaks to their idiocy) he just continues to demonstrate unmoved. Do you know what else seemed unmoved? The adults in the background, perhaps teachers, perhaps chaperones, they just stood there…doing nothing.
Kylene Beers posted a response and brought up the point of the importance of books. Books with diverse characters, books that build empathy, books that challenge how we think and change us for the better. I have been challenging myself to read more books outside my genre of choice fantasy. I listened to The Poet X, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, All American Boys, Anger is a Gift over the last few weeks and just finished Harbor Me and read Ghost Boys. All stories that provide me a different view. A view of characters unlike me that deal with issues I never have had to face but they changed me. They helped me to see how much is at risk if we do not help our students develop a sense of awareness that they need to care for others. That we all are responsible to Harbor those in need, to have compassion, empathy and provide shelter from the ideas and people that send a message that the “other” is not worthy of basic human decency.
Last week I did a BHH exercise with Mama by Jaqueline Woodson. I had students share their thoughts after reading and many made connection and empathized with the character over his loss but a few made comments of maybe his mom was a drug dealer, maybe he is from the hood. It gave me the opportunity to ask where these ideas come from and they shrugged. Maybe it is the media, popular music, I don’t know. What I do know however is their experience has not been informed with anything but stereotypes, and until now it hasn’t been questioned.
I am building an inquiry project over the next few months and truthfully if it goes well I plan to create a course. We will be looking at the injustice of the world, through issues that effect all of use but my hope is that we open some windows, let in the light and increase our understanding. Form plans on how we help others see that there is more that brings us together than separates us. We start small, articles, short stories and picture books but we are going big. I am excited about the idea and after today and seeing the look on those teenagers faces I know that I need to do more to insure that no students leave my room thinking that differences are permission for disrespect, that celebrating diversity will create a better future for an ever changing world.
It is our job as teachers to help our students navigate the trials that are put before them. We can’t stand in the background hoping that things will just work out. We most certainly can’t stand by while they huddle around a Veteran and harass them.
After the comments that came from reading Mama I started slowly and put different picture books in my students hands. Some more diverse than others. They read them and in groups discussed their thinking. Monday the work continues as we look at how seeing ourselves matters and why seeing others does as well. I am uncertain if this is the best route to go but it is a start.
I am certain I can’t just stand in the background and hope for the best.