Saturday, February 9, 2019

An ongoing conversation about Slavery and Race

The class listened to and discussed the story The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud. We heard about special quilts that depicted hidden symbols like flight patterns of geese, that revealed landmarks, strategies and instructions for runaway slaves to use in order to escape to freedom. These special codes were ideally only known by a select few and would be woven into blankets that served a road maps. The quilts were sometimes displayed on laundry lines, in windows, or on porch rocking chairs in view of weary travelers. Today, these tapestries are prized possessions and special heirlooms to families whose stories are meant to be remembered and passed down to the next generations.

Math class challenged us to break another type of “code”-a combination lock. This three digit code was predicted given the clues 08, 25 and 31. Kindergartners had to reorder the numbers to find the correct code. They also practiced using the correct number sequence to open combination locks.

Out of the mouths of K Babes:

Another Circle Time story included Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winters. Afterward, this conversation was sparked and overheard during snack/choice time while Ks were busily sitting around the large table.

Child 1: “Let’s play slavery.”
Child 2: “Yeah, _ is the slaver and _ is the dog.”
Child 3  (sitting across the table): “Why didn’t they (the slaves) just put on white skin?”
Child 5: “Yeah, like a costume.”
Child 2: “Michael Jackson put on white skin and died.”
Child ?: “...and played basketball.”
Child 1: “Michael Jackson?”
Child ?: “No, that was a different Michael Jackson.”
Child 6: “Michael Jordan.”

I would like to put this conversation into a context. First, please give yourself permission to laugh and take the words expressed as just that, funny. These are Kindergartners grappling with a huge concept with their 5 and 6 year old body of knowledge. We may choose to read this and become instantly offended, or feel guilty, or horrified- which is probably exactly what we should not do. Children, if given the opportunity,  express themselves with an innocence and candor that is unmatched. For instance, I can’t tell you how many times my own 4 young children said something while out in public that I wish they hadn’t. In my quest to not look like a bad parent, I scolded them or worse, pretended like they hadn’t said anything, or even worse than that, had them apologize to a perfect stranger who may not have even been listening.

Kara Walker, Silhouette Artist. porcelain vase.

There is a lot jam packed into that one conversation so we will have to save the other branches for another time. Now, one might ask, should you even teach about slavery in Kindergarten? My personal answer, of course. It is as much a part of history as any other topic that I teach or have taught in the past-Ancient Egypt, the Titanic, the Flint Water Crisis, etc. Should I teach responsibly? Absolutely. Literature and activities are carefully selected to reflect age appropriate information without gruesome depictions to scare a small child out of their wits.
Time is set purposefully set aside for both the children and I to ask and answer questions, make comments, and express feelings. Do you give a child context for the information being read?  Of course, as with any other information that you would teach. Do you ask other people (and sources) who are knowledgeable on the subject for help about the content? Yes,  otherwise a little or incorrect knowledge can be dangerous.

Grandma's Twynnes. Paper collage. 2016
My students often create scenarios for their free choice time activities based on 
the books they have just heard. Ks decorated a picturesque carton after studying The Caves of Lascaux, acted out a puppet show after listening to the story of The Mitten,  and wanted to joust and erect cardboard castles after hearing tales of knights and kingdoms. 

I was glad that my students felt comfortable enough to express themselves and regurgitate some of what they heard. So, one might ask, ‘Why didn’t the kids choose to create freedom quilt square designs or pretend to drink from a ladle instead?’ They did. Well, why didn’t they hone in on the talk of constellations that we have been discussing recently. Did that too. Kindergartners also found yet another way to tell their classmates what to do and made plans to pretend like they were puppies, just like they always do. Now, it is my responsibility as their teacher, to follow up and revisit this topic of slavery with as much care, compassion and age appropriate teaching that I can. To ignore or abandon this subject now is one of the the most harmful things that I can do, especially in a time when information about slavery and race in America and American History is often distorted, avoided and muted. I can, with hopefully my life experiences and my relationship with others (including my students), educate them.

(Above right.) Detail from Memory Artist Clementine Hunter's African House Murals. Natchitoches, LA.

Former Ks "patchwork path quilt" patterns

My Mom's college graduation portrait. 
My parents chose not to have the slavery conversation with me. This negatively impacted me because I was basically ignorant of the subject until my early teens. (My sisters may have had a different experience, so I will ask them.) I assume that my mother and father thought that they were helping me by not telling me. I can also imagine that that topic was a very difficult one to have. Anyway, considering that they were in the midst of experiencing the Civil Rights Movement, Detroit Riots, housing and job discrimination, and other forms of Jim Crow while raising seven daughters, they had to pick their battles. Additionally, my own mother, a young scholar, didn’t share until she was well in her late 70s, how she was denied the opportunity to pursue her dream to become a pharmacist and instead redirected to become a school teacher because she was black and living in the South. I, in turn, feel that I did not adequately prepare my own children, to a certain extent, while raising them with my husband on the south side of Ann Arbor. My reasons varied, but ultimately because I didn’t understand that I should.

We, as parents, have a responsibility to follow up with our child about, ‘What did
you talk about at school today?’ just like any other day. It would greatly benefit each child to have an age appropriate conversation with their loving adult about these topics of slavery and racism. Also, we should continually educate ourselves and reflect on your own experiences, biases and opinions. The longer we wait to address this difficult but necessary subject, the more challenging it may become. The undercurrent of life’s background noise will become more prevalent and drown out our parental influence and potential for growth.

Here are some final suggestions:

Overreacting to your child’s comments, like when a student tells you that you are fat, is not helpful and may discourage a child’s innate need to express themselves and willingness to share in a safe space. Over explaining runs the risk of information overload and disinterest. They’re 5 and 6. Avoid operating in guilt. No one can undo or edit out the past. Don’t panic when you don’t know. And actually, it is helpful to tell your child when you don’t. And a great opportunity to seek out information to learn and grow -together. Have your child share and restate their knowledge about slavery and  race and guide them through the process of acquiring new knowledge and understanding what each really means. Lastly, don't wait too long, someone else will expect your child to form opinions about slavery and race sooner than you might think.

(Above, The Washington Monument reflected in the side glass panel of the Smithsonian's African American Museum of History and Culture. Washington D.C., 2016

You can’t get mad at ignorance." -J.G.

“The legal system can force open doors, and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.”

                                  - Thurgood Marshall, First Black Supreme Court Justice

If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on Earth.”

                                  -Roberto Clemente, Baseball Legend

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
                                 -from The Lorax, Dr. Seuss

Select quote from the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument and Memorial wall,
Washington, D.C.

Recommended Reading:

Let’s Talk About Race, Julius Lester. This book was recommended and given to our class by our Head of School, Walter.

The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe Feagin.

My backyard peony.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Be My SK Valentine Exchange Party!

Our Valentines Exchange Party was a sweet and simple act of spreading some love. We began with a story You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith after Kindergartners shared  some of their heart-warming definitions of what “Love” meant to them. Afterward, our round robin delivery system around the table allowed the children to practice recognizing their peer’s names while showing some love and sharing a few treats. We even ate a few rare sweets before lunch! Some time was set aside to read our cards and admire each other’s creativity with designing our unique forms of correspondence and to enjoy each other’s company. Thanks to Grandma and all of the other Moms who came to spend time with us and to assist us with attempting to solve a very tricky "break the code" Math problem. 

Happy Valentines Day!
Have a safe, warm, and relaxing Mid-Winter Break!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

February Dates at a Glance!

Celebrating African American History!

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture  including the Washington Monument during its inaugural year 2016.

Friday, February 1st               Winter EB (Exploratory Block) classes begin!
Mon.-Fri. 2/4-2/8th                SK Spirit Week! ! !
Tuesday, February 5th           Chinese New Year!
Thursday, February 7th          Valentine Exchange Party, 8:45 A.M.-11:00 A.M.
Friday, February 8th              SK Skating Party, Buhr Park Rink. 10-11:30
Friday, February 8th              EB (Exploratory Block) classes, 2 of 4 
Mon.-Fri. February 11-15th       No School-Mid Winter Break!
Thursday, February 21st         UMS "Las Cafeteras," 11 A.M.
Friday, February 22nd            Wild Swan "Under the African Sky," 10 A.M.
Friday, March 1st                  EB (Exploratory Block) classes, 3 of 4

Friday, January 25, 2019

P-Jammin' with Service Learning projects

Just when you think that a Kindergartner can not get any cuter, they come to school adorned in their pajamas-this time for our Scholastic Books Pajama Drive annually spearheaded by Mrs. Carpenter's 1/2 Grade class.

The SK families are asked to donate new pajamas for those children who may very well not have any otherwise, even during the holidays or other chilly winter months. It appeared hard for some of the Kindergartners to fathom, not having fresh PJ's every night, or ever.

On Pajama count day, all three classes K-2 join together to tally up their efforts. They also marveled at each other's exquisite taste in sleepwear ( also thanks to Mom's and Dads.)

Afterward, Mrs. Carpenter whisked the box of PJ's off to Scholastic Books who matches each pair with a book and delivers them to local families before the holidays. It feels good to give, especially during such a generous time of year!

Our Sharing Day topic was all about our lovies!

"pajama catwalk"
(and the
only time
anyone is
on the tables!

Strike a pose!

A little hydraulic break dancing!

 What else would you serve for snack on a pajama day? Cereal and milk of course!

Our "Polar Express" Pajama Party (the following week) was a cozy end to our first semester.

Kindergartners entered the room from the train tracks and climbed aboard the engine. They heard a reading of the magical Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg and were entranced by this timeless tale. 

Ks were excellent hosts to younger Sibs!

Polar Express "B-E-L-L-S" Bingo was the next stop!

(sing it...) Hot, hot, hot-hot chocolate! Never, ever let it cool... 

 Other passengers, a.k.a. our Preschooler Buddies, joined us for refreshments!

 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May you always hear the bells!