In my second and third grade class we think about social justice. It isn't something that is tested at the end of the year on high stakes tests. It's just there. It would be difficult to be a teacher and not think about the world critically with my kids. How can one teach about culture, geography, government, history, current events, without considering human rights? I don't think it's possible. At least not if you try to be real. Not if you try to teach well.
This fall we have been fairly glued to the election coverage. How could one teach social studies and not discuss this world changing event? It's stimulating for everyone. I feel so lucky to be there for their awakening. I hasten to add that none of my students know who I will vote for (oh, they know I WILL vote). I don't try to convince my students to think the way I think politically. While they ask often who I will vote for, I don't tell. But I think home conversations are started with the conversations in our room. That is truly important. Perhaps it is more important than some of the curriculum that is tested.
Last year we looked at the life (and death) of Ann Frank. The obvious question the children asked was, "How could the Nazis have done that?" As a literature study, the little Ann Frank biography (not The Diary) was very successful. Partly because we all became more critical careful, readers. Partly because my class had their young eyes opened to this tragedy. They were stunned. They asked hard questions. They became more awake. I don't pretend to know the answers about how good people can do such bad things. I said as much. But we thought about it. We explored. We read this little book together, Not My Fault, and talked about it. It has these simple pen and ink drawings of children talking to the reader. A different kid on each page. You never know what really happened in the story. I guess it doesn't matter. It is so simple - but at the same time - so complex. Here is the text.
Not My Fault
It happened after class – It had nothing to do with me!
I didn’t see what happened,
So I didn’t know he was crying.
Even though I saw it, and know what happened,
It wasn’t my fault!
I was really scared, and there wasn’t any way to help,
So I just stood on the side and watched…
A lot of people were bullying him.
I couldn’t stop them all by myself.
You can’t blame me!
A lot of people hit him. Actually everybody hit him.
I hit him too, but only a few times…
I didn’t hit him first.
Someone else hit him first, so it wasn’t my fault.
So, was I wrong?
I always thought he was weird anyway.
The whole thing wasn’t strange at all.
If he gets picked on, maybe he should blame himself.
He was standing all alone, crying.
Guys shouldn’t be crybabies.
I know I should’ve gone and told the teacher,
But I was afraid!
Anyway, it had nothing to do with me.
He was just crying quietly, not saying anything.
Everyone acted like nothing happened…
He didn’t say anything,
So we just stood on the side watching.
He should have shouted for help!
I hit him too, but it doesn’t matter.
Everyone was hitting him, so you can’t blame me.
Does it have nothing to do with me?
- Leif Kristiansson -
I have said this before in my blog, children sometimes know at an intuitive level, so much more about truth and what is right than many well-educated adults I know. It's sad to think that the outlook and optimism children have at an early age can be changed, darkened, twisted as they grow.
Two weeks ago we heard tragic news about the death of a young man who used to attend our little school. While I don't know the details of his death, he was shot. He was in my son's class. He was taught by my best friends. He was a good kid. He was 16, the same as our Devin. He was funny, engaging, he laughed easily. Somehow, in these last few years the circumstances of his life changed. I hadn't seen him in a while. He was killed. Too young. Such a waste. It got very little coverage in the news. The reporters, newspaper editors, the folks who make decisions about what goes on the TV news didn't know him. If they did, they would have explored this tragedy more, made a lesson out of it somehow. Helped us to see the value of this young man's life. The terrible sadness in his death. It's easy to say "It's Not My Fault" but he was our charge. Could we have done more for him? Could we have turned a tendency? Let him to see a world with more hope? All I can do now is to help my students, my best friends, to see a hopeful world, a world where their beautiful voices do make a difference.