I thought my first diary would be very different. I've been looking forward to digging into some research, creating a colorful graphic, and maybe even embedding a video clip.
Instead, opportunity presented itself in the form of a precious six year old child.
This year marked the first time in 20 plus years of teaching that ugliness has crept into my classroom. When President Obama was to give a highly anticipated televised speech on education, the right wing became outraged. Parents in my school district and across the country began threatening to keep their children out of school on the day of the speech. An opt-out letter was sent to parents at my school, and a few of my students left the classroom when we watched the speech.
And we are all painfully aware of how the hateful rhetoric has increased since HIR was introduced. In Arizona, three Democratic Representatives, Harry Mitchell, Gabrielle Giffords, and Anne Kirkpatrick, all of whom voted twice for HIR, have been the subject of death threats, vandalism, and intimidation. Knowing this, I shouldn't have been surprised by a student's comment during a recent math lesson.
The concept was identifying and counting money. My first grade students were learning to identify Presidential faces and landmarks on coins. They easily learned to skip-count by 2's, 5's, and 10's, so counting pennies, nickles and dimes, and various combinations thereof, was a breeze. In fact, ten of my students are in my "challenge" math group this year, so the class was eager to move on to quarters and dollars. On this particular day, Jose brought in some coins from home to share. We sat on the carpet and looked at his Susan B. Anthony coin, and Jose smiled broadly. A math lesson turned into a civics lesson as we discussed Susan B. Anthony, voting and civil rights. A student mentioned MLK, Jr., a previous topic of discussion. Tangents are a natural part of a first grade lesson, but everything always comes together quite beautifully in the end.
We started looking at George Washington's face on a quarter. A quick review ensued. I asked, "So, whose face is on a _?" Responses were called out. Nancy asked "Will President Obama's face be on a coin?" I responded "It might be." Then Barry commented "My Mom said he isn't our President." "Well," I said, "We had a Presidential election and most of the people in America voted for President Obama. Do you remember when our class voted for favorite ice cream flavors?" Students nodded their heads. I added "You had to choose vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. Most of the class voted for chocolate, and we made a picture graph to show that." We went back to desks and started practicing counting coins.
Barry's comment certainly caused me to reflect. As teachers, we often find ourselves, banging our collective heads against the wall. It would be so much easier to give up. We can't. I hope we can all just teach children not to hate.