Me: Let’s look into the lyrics. Can anyone pick out any reference or connections to other things you have learned about?
Student 1: The title of the song is “Orion.” The singer must be referring to the constellation, or he might be thinking about the Greek myth as well.
Me: Exactly, two really good connections. One question for you. Is the narrator a man?
Student 1: I’m not sure.
Me: That’s okay, I’m not mad, I just want us all to think deeply. Can anyone find anything in the lyrics of this song that indicated the gender of the narrator?
[three students raise their hands and then slowly lower them]
Me: Sometimes it really matters how an author, singer or narrator identifies, whether it’s gender or race. Sometimes, facets of an artist’s identity can influence how we examine the perspective of artists, and the art itself, but other times it doesn’t matter. Let’s not make assumptions.
After class, I talked to that 5th grader to make sure that he understood that I was appreciative of his observation and that his response led to some very important questions. He explained that he wasn’t making the assumption that it was a guy who was the narrator, it just came out and I assured him that I knew that he had no negative intention.
I’m not one of those teachers who correct students when they ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” and make them repeat the question starting with “May I.” In general, I let students role their eyes at me, because I believe that most of the time it’s harmless and that there are more important battles to fight. While I try to set good habits with my students when they sing, if a student is not sitting up perfectly straight (especially with my younger students), but they are working really well, I’ll let it go. However, I don’t let comments about race and gender that are ill informed, based on assumptions or offensive go by without addressing them.
It’s a crazy world out there but that doesn’t mean that my classroom has to be crazy. I don’t shudder when my students to bring in statements that expose bias, racism and sexism into my classroom. I lean in and use these missteps as teachable. If our students don’t learn how to think about these comments, thoughts and perspectives critically, they will only add to the maelstrom of social issues in our society.
I didn’t start teaching thinking that I would be addressing social issues, but now I can’t help it. At this point in my life, I don’t think that I could do a job, which didn’t allow me to speak out against prejudice and point out micro-aggressions.
I can’t change the world, but I can show my students that there is another way.