Friday, January 13, 2012

Year 2: Week 17- From The Back Of The Bus

“What does the word segregation mean to you?”

When I posed this question to my third graders what was fascinating wasn’t so much the content of what they said but how they said it. They all knew about the Rosa Parks and the fact that the buses were segregated. However they had a really hard time describing the groups that were segregated from each other.

I heard students stumble over the words, “Aftrican-American,” “black” and “minorities.” Also they had issues dealing with the words “white” and “Caucasian.” One student was so confused about the terms he asked me “It’s Cauc-Asian, right? So does that include Asians?”

Instead of immediately correcting my students I let them try to work out the language and take cues from each other. What I found and was very proud of was the fact that they all knew that they needed to be careful with the words. They just didn’t know which to use.

Before I settled this issue for my students I introduced them to the term “colored people.” I explained that myself as an Asian American would also be subject to Jim Crow laws because I was a “colored person.” Some of my third graders didn’t quite believe me but as I discussed how other minorities were affected by this type of discrimination it started to make sense to them.

The reason I began this class with discussing segregation is because as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly next week we are singing “If You Meet Me At The Back Of The Bus.”

Charles Neblett took the tune of “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and added lyrics about positive develop in desegregation from universities to swimming pools.

As I described the different verses and the stories behind them, there was a level of disbelief from my students. I told them that this stuff is hard to understand and hard to imagine for me as well. At the same time we have to try so we can understand how much we’ve grown as a country since these times and be grateful that we get to share

After learning the song, I came back to the difficulty they were having with terms for groups of people. I told them how “white” used to not include groups of people that we call “white” now. While I explained this, it made me realize how these labels don’t really describe anyone accurately and are often used to disenfranchise people.

I didn't give them a clear answer of that any particular term was right or wrong because none of the term really feel right.  There's better and worse and some are offensive  that's not what we are really talking about here.  My third graders have not developed a sense of a person directed connected with labels because they haven't really learned to do that yet.  Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

If you ever wonder why we have a day set aside for Martin Luther King Jr.,  think about the fact that by simply talking about the struggles he was a part of it teaches us something about ourselves and each other.  

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