One of the most important times in our school day is when we share news and journals. I have stapled together large sheets of white paper to make big journals so that a few children can write and sketch in them at one time. We have one for Science, by far the most popular, one for Language, one for Math and one for Culture. The children and I write down observations, questions and comments about what we notice in the world around us.
These are often fascinating discussion starters and we can go on for long periods of time talking about really interesting and diverse ideas and observations. Yesterday someone brought in some rocks from Maine given to her by a relative. “Ohhh, look at the shiny sparkles in that one!” One little guy described a big lizard he saw that was brown and shiny and when the light was right you could see a rainbow on its skin. “Hey, I’ve seen one of those before.”
Recently kids have shared patterns for solving math problems, dead dragonflies, cicada shells and a butterfly wing that looked magical under the microscope. A couple of days ago, one child recorded a question in the language journal wondering who invented the alphabet. One of the best parts of this structure for me is that every year different questions surface. It helps to keep every year different and fresh. This time in our day truly belongs to the kids. Whoever writes something in a “Public Journal” gets to read and discuss it and if there are questions and follow-up questions, whoever posted it gets to call on the others.
I am the one so far who has shared news stories. I read letters to the editor, human interest stories, anything in the paper having to do with animals – our current passion. I also bring up politics when things are right in front of us. Most of my kids know who is running for governor in our state as well as who is the Republican candidate (Nikki Haley) and who is the Democratic candidate (Vincent Sheheen). They know who the president and vice president are. It is pretty surface level… so far.
The children have only brought in a few news items to share. The miners trapped in the Chilean gold mine came to our attention because one of our girls brought in an article from the paper. We went on the internet for some follow up. But up until now, most of the news has come from me. Sometimes I will share the news as well as the history behind it to give it context. One child brought up the fact that there is a lot of arguing about a building in New York City near, “’Round Zero’, whatever that is.” So, I described the situation. Most have heard of 9/11 but didn’t really understand it. I filled them in – in general terms. I told them that Muslims would like to build a community center in NYC few blocks from where the Twin Towers fell. I told them how angry some people are because the people involved in the Twin Towers attack were Muslim.
“What are Muslims?” asked on of the children.
“They are people – like you and your families - who have a different religion than most of us.”
“Are they Christians?”
“Hey, my mom teaches as a Jewish school. That’s a different religion. The kids at my mom’s school are really cool!”
“Sure they are.”
“Are Muslims bad?”
“Of course not. The people who crashed the airplanes into the Twin towers were definitely bad. But every Muslim I have known has been a truly good person. They are people just like you and me. There were even Muslims killed in the Twin Towers.”
“There were? So why don’t they want them to build a building there?”
There is often a point in classroom conversations where things become dicey. While I tell about what is going on in terms as objective as I can manage, I try not to give myself away. The kids don’t know if I vote Republican or Democrat for example. It wouldn’t be good form for me to favor one candidate or a single side of a purely political issue. So this was one of those sensitive areas for me. I have some strong opinions but it wasn’t my place to share them.
“Well… there are those who think that Muslims are bad because of what happened at the Twin towers. They think the new building is too close to where the buildings went down.”
“But Muslims aren’t bad just because what some of them did!” said one bright-eyed little girl who I didn’t even think was listening.
There were murmurs of agreement. Young kids have a way of seeing through political smoke and rhetoric, which hide the truth. They don’t yet understand political correctness or even the fact that most adults, in polite company, steer clear of religion and politics. Kids don’t see the barriers that adults place between us. For the most part, they are able to celebrate our differences. Mostly, kids see the humanness, the decency in all of us, something adults overlook when we choose to focus on what divides us.
“Here’s what I think,” said one of the boys who had not said very much until now. “I think someone, somewhere should build a great big building that has a Muslims’ church and a Christians’ church and a Jewish church all in one place. That way they could all learn to get along together.”
Again there were murmurs of agreement. “Wow,” I said quietly, writing down what he said on my notes of the discussion.
“Hey,” said one of his second grade peers, “You should write a letter to the editor!”