This weekend, home-schooling occurred to me for the first time.
I’m not going to do it, of course, for the high-minded reason that Scout needs to be exposed to people other than me, and for the real reason: I’m far too lazy.
But here's what caused me to relate to people who don't want their kids learning about Darwin:
Because February is Black History Month in the United States, all public school teachers are expected to do a unit on it. In Scout's class, the Family Project this month is profiles of famous black figures—Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton. Well, maybe not Fred Hampton. ("And then one morning, the Chicago Police ventilated Hampton while he slept.")
Our family's famous black figure is Jesse Owens.
So Cristie and I get to explain to Scout—so she can in-turn formally present to her six-year-old colleagues—who “Raydolph Hitler” was, and how he thought white people were better than … other people. You know, people like Jesse Owens. But the story has a happy ending, we’re supposed to feel: Owens won and Hitler got a lesson in anger management.
(I reckon we’ll wait until next Black History Month to tell Scout that after Jesse Owens won, Hitler privately shrugged off the victory as a shoe-in for someone whose ancestors “came from the jungle." And maybe the February after that, we’ll tell her that Owens actually thought Hitler was mistreated by the press; he felt snubbed by President Roosevelt, who “didn’t even send me a telegram.” Third grade? That’ll be the time we talk about how Owens was unfairly stripped of his amateur status and had to scrap together a living hustling for black exploitation films, racing against horses and running from IRS agents.)
Look. We could hold a long, boring million-man beer summit in this country on when and how it’s appropriate to introduce race and racism to our innocents, thereby inducing the lifelong intellectual and emotional epilepsy that will make them truly American.
But what are the chances that the exact best way to bring them into this deeply complex realm is all at once, Lincoln to Hitler to X, in February of their kindergarten year, because it happens to be Black History Month?
And then to have them learn the stuff from one another's imbecile presentations?
Is this stupid, or what?
I sympathize with parents on this issue [well, actually, on any NUMBER of issues – being a parent is REALLY TOUGH!] because when you talk about difficult unpleasant things probably varies by individual child, but of course our educational system is all about “structure” [read: cookie-cutter] and they aren’t so great at recognizing or encouraging uniqueness or individuality. Hence the “presentation day”. Let’s check that item off folks and move on.
I haven’t a helpful thing to contribute, being only a doting auntie and not a parent myself, but I can certainly agree that this is kind of stupid.
We went through a similar project last week. Lily had to present on Germany to her second grade class. You know, the basics…flag, population, size…but she also included money, culture, food etc. which begged the question: Do you include Hitler? Can you NOT include Hitler? Are 2nd graders going to be freaked out by Hitler? Because I’m 42 and I’m still am freaked out by Hitler.
What happened to the lessons we had in 2nd grade, like watching Patch the Pony give us lessons on safe practices while crossing the street. Now THAT was straightforward.
David Murray says
Good points, guys.
As I look back on what my generation learning at that age, it was George Washington at the friggin’ cherry tree. “I cannot tell a lie.”
(Of course, that was in a nearly all-white school where the only black kid was named Chuck Green, an introduction to irony. Meanwhile, the only disabled kid was Tom Hough; he had a wooden leg. At recess one day Tom sang, “Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man. But the bear was bigger, so he ran like a nigger up a tree.”)
And I know we heard about Martin Luther King in fifth grade.
I don’t remember when slavery was introduced, but I remember regurgitating a textbook account of the Emancipation Proclamation in fifth or sixth grade. (When did they come out with those wonderful papermate erasable ballpoint pens? That’s what I associate with Reconstruction.)
So I can hardly advocate a return to some ideal way to introduce all this mess.
And I note that my wife teaches at an all-black school on Chicago’s west side. There, the Jesse Owens story might come across as a little less shocking. There, acknowledging Black History Month has a whole different set of meanings.
No matter who we are, it’s all a massive, crazy muddle, how all this information comes to us. (That’s because it’s some crazy information.)
But Hitler and Jesse Owens for a kindergartener who has yet to process much if any of the vast racial weirdness in this country? In a mixed-race setting?
It seems like a blunt instrument to me.
Mark Ragan says
Eileen: You gave me my favorite quote of the day:
“…I’m 42 and I’m still am freaked out by Hitler.”
David: What’s with the headline? I’m not sure I see the connection, and it’s bit unnerving for a post dealing with kids.
Otherwise, your post made me think of so many ridiculous exercises that schools put children—and of course, by extension, their parents—through.
My sister once wrote a piece for The Christian Science Monitor about schools that force parents of grade-scholers to do science projects, because you know who’s really doing them!
She writes about feverishly hunting for glue guns in Deerfield on Sunday nights while cursing her son’s teacher under her breath.
David Murray says
Mark, thanks for the tip about the headline, which I’ve changed. It was meant to be unnerving, but not at the expense of being confusing!
Zoe Nicholson says
couldn’t she just talk about someone she could relate to – like Ruby Bridges?
Heck, I’m not old enough to talk about Hitler.
David Murray says
Ha! Right on, Zoe! Nobody’s old enough to talk about Hitler. Thanks for the suggestion, though it comes too late. I’ll post here later what we cobbled together, on Owens.