Monday, January 27, 2014

Our Dream for Peace

Well, our Martin Luther King lesson was only a week behind schedule. ;) But I always enjoy teaching about MLK and segregation, because kids at this age are *astonished* that something like that could have ever been the norm.  (Not that I'm not astonished on a regular basis that Jim Crow laws used to be a legitimate thing; it's just I am familiar with history. These children are not!)

So, I try to help make the arbitrary rules more concrete for them.  When students come in, they get a pink or green garage sale sticker on their hand.  The stickers are handed out at random, in whatever order they are on the sheet and whatever order students walk in.  When it's time to come to the carpet, students with a green sticker get to sit up front. Green stickers get to sit comfortably, whisper to each other, enjoy a piece of candy and get called on regularly.  Those with pink stickers have to sit at the back of the carpet, criss-cross applesauce as usual, before being sent back to their desks.  They are not able to ask questions or get a piece of candy.  (For the record, this whole portion of the lesson lasts approximately one minute. I am not actually a cruel or insensitive teacher! And students who wore pink stickers got their paper first and two pieces of candy for being good sports.)  

I pause and ask students if they notice anything wrong about what's happening.  I ask students with pink stickers how they feel and students with green stickers how they feel.  We talk about how it's unfair.  We talk about how a color of a sticker shouldn't decide how you're treated.  And then we talk about how your skin color shouldn't determine that, either.

We learned about how we used to be divided, and how Martin Luther King wanted us all to get along.

Then we wrote about our own dreams for peace.  Some are about sibling rivalry, some about peer conflict, and others -- perhaps most heartbreakingly -- are about fights seen at home. (Parents, keep in mind that children are considered forgotten victims when it comes to a domestic disturbance. When children see or hear you argue, verbally or physically, they often feel it is their fault. They feel uncertain and frightened.) 


At the very end of the day, as a math/social studies combo lesson, students described and graphed their feelings about two eggs: one white, one brown.  Even though we talked all day about MLK and our skin color, no one brought that up.  

I began by asking students if they like to eat eggs for breakfast. 13 students said YES and 2 said NO. (We had 6 children absent today.)  When I brought out the brown egg, 11 students said they'd eat it.  Before I showed them the white egg. Then, suddenly, the brown egg was described as "dirty, nasty, spotted" while the white egg was described as "plain" and "clean." All 15 students said they wouldn't eat the brown egg if the white egg was an option.

But why? Because the brown egg was "dirty." I never told them such a thing! After our graphing, I told them a little background about the eggs. I pointed out that both eggs were, in fact, clean.  Both eggs came from the same grocery store.  However, the brown egg was bigger.  The brown egg came from a free range chicken.  In my opinion, the brown egg was the better choice for eating.  But the convincing factor for the students was how they looked on the inside.

When we broke the shells, we saw that the eggs looked identical.  The students realized that maybe they shouldn't have made so many assumptions just because the brown egg was a color they weren't used to.  When we graphed again based on the unlabeled bags, more students happened to choose the brown egg.  

The moral of the day was... it doesn't really matter what we (or eggs) look like on the outside. What matters is that on the inside, we're all the same... and we all deserve the same treatment. ;)

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