Kid and I are researching quotes for his paper about community action, and we come across a good quote by Nelson Mandela.
Me: “Ohhh, that’s a perfect one to use. Do you know who Nelson Mandela is?”
Kid: “Yeah of course.”
Me: “Oh, I’m impressed. I wouldn’t necessarily think a kid your age would know about him.”
Kid: “Well, my dad listens to his music all the time.”
Me: “Ummm…his music? Nelson Mandela was not a musician, as far as I know…”
Kid: “Yes, he’s a country singer!”
Me: “I think you’re thinking of someone else…”
Kid: “You know, (singing) ‘On the road again, Just can’t wait to get on the road again….'”
Me: “Oh, honey, no. That’s Willie Nelson. Not Nelson Mandela. They are two very VERY different people. Nelson Mandela ended apartheid in South Africa.”
Kid (pondering): “Ok but otherwise they’re pretty much the same.”
When my future children ask me what I did in this moment of our nation’s history, when our president openly defended white supremacy, and likened the morals and actions of neo-nazis to the morals and actions of those standing up for equality, I will be proud to say I publicly denounced it.
I will be proud to say I donated to the ACLU.
I will be embarrassed to say that I knew that wasn’t enough, but I didn’t know what to do next; that my disgust, outrage, anxiety, and yes– privileged white guilt– momentarily crippled me.
But I will be proud to say I swallowed that paralysis, and that I turned to you, to my peers, to my elders, to my community, and to my soul to ask the question “What else can I do?” and I trusted that together we would find ways to make positive change.
I will be proud to say that when my student asked me if I heard what the president said, instead of replying, “I cannot talk politics with you,” I recognized this was not politics at all, and said, “Yes. And I disagree with it wholeheartedly, and I think that we as wiser, kinder, more humane people have a responsibility to speak out for equality, and against racism, at every turn.”
I will be proud to say that I knew, if nothing else, not to stay silent.
I will be proud to say that I continued to search for answers, even though I felt a deep sense of hopelessness and despair.
I will be proud to say that I did something, even if that something was small.
I will be proud to say that I knew doing nothing was not an option.
What will you be proud to say?
The kids are writing historical fiction stories as part of our Colonial America unit.
Kid: “I named my character John McFly!”
Me: “Hmmm. Do you think John McFly is a good name for a character who lived in Colonial America? Does that make sense for that time period?”
Kid: “Well…not COLONIAL America, but in 1984.”
Kid: “So…right after.”
Me: “When Columbus landed in what is now America, and he wanted to tell people back home what he found, what do you think he did?”
Me: “Well…Do you think he whipped out his iPhone and said ‘Siri– call home!’?”
Kid: (giggling) “Noooo!!!”
Me: “Well then what did he do?”
Kid (long, contemplative pause): “He probably used his flip phone.”
Kid: “What I learned from the American Revolution is that sometimes war is necessary to fight for our freedom, and if we didn’t have that war, we would STILL have to pay taxes today! But instead we get to keep all our money!”
I’ll leave that to you, 5th grade.