My favorite part of every school day is “Read Aloud Time.” I love to read to the kids. I love the looks on their faces as they react to the action in each story. I love it when I try to stop, and they beg me for just one more chapter. Its the closest I’ll ever come to getting a curtain call, you know?
A few years ago I was reading the book “The Liberation of Gabriel King” to my fifth graders. The book is set in Georgia, during the Presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter. It is a great story, and I often use it to begin the school year, as the main characters are an unlikely pair of best friends who are about to enter fifth grade, one with enthusiasm, one with total fear.
The subtext of the story is the racial tension in the South in the 1970’s. The book talks about bigotry, racial prejudice and even the KKK. The children in the story have to learn how to stand up to these things, and how to face their personal fears.
As I read the book to the class that year, they asked a lot of questions. One of the reasons I love this book is because it leads to such rich and interesting discussions. Ten year olds are honest, and they’re very curious. They keep asking questions until they find out what they want to know.
I remember one particular little boy in that class. He was a serious, quiet kid. Not a great student, but just a really good kid. He was the kind of typical fifth grader who spent a lot of our day waiting for recess so that he could play ball with his friends. But he was a thoughtful kid, insightful in his own way. I’ll always remember him for one comment that he made, as we were discussing racial prejudice.
One of the other kids had asked, “Why did some white people think black people weren’t as good as them?” (Note that past tense ‘did’, please). I tried to explain it briefly, referring back to the history of slavery, doing my best to shed some light on a dark story. “But why would they think that?”, the kids kept asking.
You should know that my class at the time had a few students from Asia, South Asia and Central America, but none of them were African American. All were equally bewildered by the descriptions of racial prejudice, but all of them wanted to understand it.
I remember looking at the group, feeling somewhat at a loss. But I remember that particular little boy, slouching back on the rug, both hands in his pockets. He had on a baseball cap, and his eyes were shaded. I remember him saying, “So let me get this straight. Some people back then thought they were better, just because their skin was lighter? Well, that’s kinda stupid.”
Don’t you love it?
As I watched the news coverage of the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality yesterday, I pictured a classroom of the future. I pictured a cute kid, ball cap tipped rakishly over one eye. I imagined him saying, “So some people back then thought that one kind of marriage was better than another kind? That’s kinda stupid.”