There are moments where I feel like I really am teaching. Surprisingly, they don’t happen often. Between the morning routines, the review, the paint spills, recess time, field trips, class presentations, if I catch a single glimpse of a child experiencing an ‘ah-ha!’ learning moment in a day, I feel lucky.
I got up this morning to teach one of my favorite groups of kids. A grade two class of eighteen very unique students who often make me laugh out loud. It was the block before lunch when one of my favorites came up to me and in a very serious voice asked me why “Rock Ohmamma” was on all the radios this morning. With my own mind still very much on the election, I was more than happy to tell them all to put away their free time books so we could have a talk (I had to talk about the election to SOMEBODY).
It started out simply enough. I asked them if they could tell me who the Prime Minister of Canada was. One girl shouted ” Stephen Bush” (fail), but the rest knew it was Stephen Harper. I asked them if they knew who the President of the United States was. Again, most of them got this. Then, I asked if anyone knew who the NEW President was going to be. That’s when things got interesting.
“It’s Oven! Oven is the guys name!”
“No, it’s that black guy”
“He’s not a black guy, he’s a brown guy”
“He can’t be the President if he’s a brown guy, people there don’t trust brown people.”
“Batman? Badman? Oven Badman?”
“NOO! It’s Rock Ohmamma! I heard it on the radio”
“Brown people can be President I think so maybe he is gonna be the President”
“If he’s a brown guy, why do they call him black?”
“They call him black because his skin isn’t normal”
I suddenly felt like I had just opened the largest can of worms. The single Native American student in the class was particularly concerned- he identified himself as having the same skin color as Obama, but couldn’t figure out why his skin was considered brown while Obama was considered black.
I looked at the clock, scraped the lesson we were going to be doing (I’m there for the next two days so I know I can squeeze it in somewhere else) and we all sat down on the floor and started talking. We talked about what ‘normal’ meant and brainstormed different words we could use instead. I asked the kids who had felt that “people there don’t trust brown people”, what made them think that. They surprised me by how much they knew- talking about times when people had to use different bathrooms and “different places to get drinks of water”. I asked them why they still thought people weren’t trusted. They said they didn’t know, but no one had told them ‘brown and black people’ WERE trusted, so how could they be?
I asked them if they knew how someone got to be President. Most knew, Canada had just had it’s own election so they had heard all about voting. We talked about how special it is to vote- how you only get to pick ONE person. I asked them if they knew what happened after voting, how they chose who got to be President. They said that they counted up all the votes and who had the most was the winner. (I considered a brief tutorial in the electoral college but decided against it, you know, time constraints).
Then the girl with the ghost earrings said “Well, if Ohmamma got all the votes, then people must want him to be the winner.”
“Yeah, because everyone was like crying on the tv, but good crying like excited and stuff.”
“Then he’s got to be getting some trusting from everybody if they picked him”
Sometimes I think teaching is knowing when not to talk. This was one of those times, so I stayed silent and just listened.
One of the girls in the class who was wearing two skirts (she couldn’t decide which one to wear, so she wore them both) said: ” Well, maybe people know that anybody can be a helper no matter what they look like. Like, I have glasses so I can be different than Matthew but still be just as good as him. ”
Which promoted Matthew to reply with my favorite line of the day: “So people must be trusting Ohmamma to be a good President even if he has no white skin because he’s going to still be good. Because skin is like glasses but just you can’t take your skin off.”
Matthew’s words hung in the air, and for once they all were silent. I saw a 18 “ah-ha” moments take place. In that second each of them understood what I’ve seen many adults struggle with. That skin color is as arbitrary as hair color, or height or glasses. That skin color is not an indicator of a persons worth.
Then, Erica in the pink dress farted and eighteen students stopped being philosophers and political masterminds and instead burst out laughing and began to make farting sounds with their hands.
As they should.
(Also? Please check out this excellent post on the election)