Besides the big idea of unfairly treating our fellow man, two concepts have been brought to the forefront in our class. First, the United States history is often ugly, and second, themes in history are definitely more complicated than they appear. Whether talking about the Civil Rights Movement, the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, or the Japanese Internment Camps during World War 2, we must understand that we will not pay justice to the topics with fourth graders. Sometimes things are just too ugly or too complicated for young minds to understand, but that doesn't stop us from beginning the conversation.
Look at how frankly those students speak about the issues and the connections they make. Wonder how their belief systems were developed. Who influenced them to believe such things? Notice the forlorn faces of the students who are assigned minority status. I'll warn you upfront, though, you may get angry at the teacher, and you may be upset with the choices some of the kids make. You may also be unhappy with the inappropriate names that are expressed when dealing with the topic of black people. I am in no means endorsing the use of such derogatory language today, but the brief inclusion of those words in the video wholly demonstrates a culture shift from 1970 to the present.
Since then, I have given a lot of thought to the Civil Rights era. I have seen documentaries and fictionalized movies and TV shows. I have read books and magazine articles outlining many of the issues.
I have made connections throughout history, from the Gullah Islands, Uncle Remus stories, slavery in the American colonies, and the treatment of slaves in the Deep South. I have stood in the courtroom of the infamous Dred Scott Decision right here in Missouri. I have walked in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, at his house in Springfield, Illinois. I have touched cannon and bayonet used during the Civil War. I have been in President Grant's house, have ridden on Huckleberry Finn's river, and have seen Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church.
When I had the fortune to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, last spring, I took a few hours to drive to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. While there, I fixated on one object for several minutes - an old, weathered wagon. I learned from the room that surrounded me that this was the wagon that carried King's body to the cemetery. King wanted his funeral to be yet another opportunity to preach about inequality and humility. Drawn by mules, the wagon transported his body through crowds of mourners. All the other items in the museum - the video screens, oversized photos, and the statuary - paled in comparison with this single, real icon.
Our history is still in the process of being written. When I consider the ongoing current world issues involving discrimination - religion, gender, orientation, and politics being among the most obvious - I realize the past, present, and future have been delicately intertwined and can not be simplistically isolated. Our history is ugly, and without a doubt, it is complicated. As we move forward, may our children make righteous and informed decisions.