Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Our Students Need to Know

There are some folks who don't understand the significance of our country electing its first Black President. But it's a conversation that should be happening in classrooms all over America. Regardless of party affiliation, political opinion, or the color of our states on that big interactive map (my state is one of three that hasn't been designated red or blue yet), we should recognize and explain to children the reasons why this election, and the outcome, is so important.

Maybe you don't understand if you didn't grow up in the South in the 60's. But I did. And not only do I understand it, I feel it. I attended an all white elementary school until forced desegregation was mandated in 1969. But my neighborhood was an inner city mixture of Black and White. So all through my elementary years, I got on my bus and rode to a White school while my Black neighbors got on their buses and rode in the other direction. There was no discussion of whether or not it was "fair." It's just the way it was.

As a seventh grader, I attended school with Black students for the first time. Three girls approached me in the bathroom on the first day of school and asked me how it felt to be White. I told them I'd never been anything else so I wasn't sure how to answer that question. One day a White boy stood in the front of my school bus, just as it stopped to let him off. He sang a few lines of "Dixie" and jumped out the door. I watched ten Black boys chase after him down the street. As alarming as that incident was, I think I was the most nervous about the fact that we had police escorts to and from schools for awhile. These motorcades began because of the school buses. The folks throwing the rocks? Adults in protest of desegregation. They lined the streets from my neighborhood to my school.

I grew up in a city rich in African American history. During the 1930's, Durham, North Carolina quickly developed a vibrant Black community, the center of which was an area known as Hayti (pronounced HAY-tie), just south of the center of town, where some of the most prominent and successful Black-owned businesses in the country during the early 20th century were established. These businesses — the best known of which are North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and Mechanics & Farmers' Bank — were centered on Parrish Street, which would come to be known as "Black Wall Street." Durham is proud to be the home of North Carolina Central University, a prominent historically Black university.

But regardless of the history of the city, we still felt the same pains of racism that other Southern towns felt. And although I've never seen "Whites Only" restaurants or water fountains in my lifetime, I have only to think of the sound of those rocks hitting my school bus, and I know those inequities took place.

So now we have a Black President. And when I stand in front of my students, especially my African American ones, I can say, "You can be anything you want to be. You can even be President" and know that it's true. As Maya Angelou said today, "My country has grown up, and we have decided not to be defined by ignorance."

And others across the world are taking notice, too. An Italian woman wrote to ABC news: "Your country has taught us all that anything is possible. Welcome back, American Dream!"

And to those who didn't vote for our next President, he himself sent out a special message today: "I hear your voices. I need your help. I will be your President, too."

It is time that all Americans function in the spirit of unity. We must put down our rocks and work together to make this country great.


12RedRoses4U said...

I to was born and raised in the South. I was in fourth grade when desegregation happened. While it does not bother me what race the president, my question is should be be teaching he is African American or biracial? I know most believe the one drop rule but I am not one that feels that rule makes since. If you have a glass of water and you put in one drop of Kool-aid you don't have Kool-aid has been my arguement for years.

Some may call me word picky, but I would like to help moved students forward with the best and most accurate knowledge possible.

Cindi Rigsbee said...

I believe we should be teaching about Barack Obama's heritage. There is a rich lesson in the fact that his father was from Kenya, and it has been said that his parents' marriage didn't last because of the pressures on biracial couples during that time. His mother then married a man from Indonesia, and Obama lived there as a child. In addition, there is an opportunity to teach about the culture of Hawaii, which is much different from what many of our students know. So I think his background is an opportunity to talk about cultures all over the world. But as Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary said yesterday,
"Every American should be moved by the sight of young African-Americans who -- for the first time -- now believe that they have a purchase in American democracy. Old men and old women, grandsons and granddaughters of slaves and slaveholders, will look to an African-American as President." Regardless of the "amount" that Barack Obama is African American, he has given hope to an entire race. And that's worth discussing in our classrooms.

aujulie said...

I am currently in college to become an elementary school teacher, and while I am not in grade school, I am still young. I did not witness segregation and to me that seems oh so long ago because I have never seen it. During a class called "Diversity of Learners" we watched a video that talked about segregation and it threw in some dates (mostly sixties). Sitting in this class, in COLLEGE, it finally dawned on me. Wow, that was not that long ago. My mom is young, but her older brothers went to all-white schools and she remembers riots taking place in her town. I think it is so important for children to understand what a big deal this is. Regardless of your political beliefs, Obama will, as he said, be your president too, and he has already made history before he has even entered office. This is the definition of a "teachable moment" and I think teachers should take advantage to instill this knowledge into their students.

12RedRoses4U said...

You response really covered many of my same thoughts. There is so much out there being new at this that at times it can all be a little overwhelming. Finding objective thoughts are sometimes hard, especially when you speak with that heavy Southern drawl that separates you from those around you because you are generalized as having certain views.