my students were enraptured by the martin luther king, jr. read-aloud book i read to them today. a lot of them had learned about him before, whether in their first-grade class or in the reading center, and shared their understandings with the class whenever i prompted them with questions (and sometimes just when they wanted to voice what they’d learned). A talked about how martin luther king, jr. made it possible for black people and white people to be together — how he saved us. as i surveyed my students, who are attending a public school that is segregated in the strictest definition of the word, i thought about how they would react if i asked them to look around the room and tell me how many white people they saw sitting next to them. (considering there is only one half-white student in each of my classes, i imagine they would have figured it out pretty quickly.) martin luther king, jr., changed the discussion in many ways, but even he did not change the systemic realities, which i thought it might be important for them to see. however, i didn’t want to depress them, and decided that much more good would come from pumping them up about how reading and writing will enable them to change the world.
in any case, M started crying AFTER the read-aloud and discussion. turns out her cousins tease her all the time because she has dark skin. “they call me names, they say i’m brown,” she sobbed. M, i told her. you are beautiful. you are perfect. yes, your skin is brown, and that is AMAZING! so don’t listen to them. okay?
i’m thankful in a way that her first salient experience with racism seems to have occurred within her own family, because it’s probably less brutal that way. but i know that my little M is growing up in a country that would really rather she look different, and speak a different language while she’s at it. unfortunately, even with that knowledge, it’s easy for me to feel disillusioned about my own impact, just like it is for almost every first-year teacher. however, i have to keep working with the knowledge that what my students are learning in 2nd grade literacy WILL empower them to change their own lives and the world around them, no matter what the odds stacked against them are. i might not know how half the time, but i have to.