My Brother Martin

There are times in life when the various strands of your life collide  in overwhelming ways and there are times when they seem to settle like pixie dust to illuminate your life. This week, as our nation marks a historic milestone and celebrates the life of a national hero , we continue our work in first grade to understand communication, conflict resolution and research families.  In this symphony of events and industry, a bit of pixie dust embellished my life in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Some background on what life is currently like in my classroom:

  • Like many schools, we are planning a school-wide inaugural celebration.
  • We have  been reading biographies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I’ve been working with readers to understand metacognitive strategies readers use (how you know what you know and other “stuff” which makes reading rich).
  • We are studying families and working to understand the lessons of previous generations.
  • We continue to look at modes of communication and practice ways to express our needs, wishes, ideas in meaningful ways.

And no first grade classroom is complete with out a healthy dose of conflict resolution awareness and practice. While it feels a tad bit exhausting to list all this, it is actually invigorating while it is happening. Here’s how the pixie dust sprinkled down….

Our celebration this week will be about celebrating the tremendous liberties we have in America and watching a piece of history unfold. I’ve never been in a school with an inaugural celebration – it always just happened and there was not big pomp and circumstance.  This time, it’s new ground in both the global sense and in our small building.  There’s lots of quasi-political chatter among everyone from kindergarten to eight grade.  Quite fun.

I’ve read just about every children’s biography of Martin Luther King and several “real” (i.e., adult) biographies and it’s always tough for me to pick a few to read because I find each of them so compelling. However, it’s always the questions and comments children pose while we read aloud that never cease to amaze me. One day last week, our discussion ran from defining “Negro” and “African-American” to wondering why adults would actually choose to hurt someone when they disagreed with them. As children raised questions, others were able to answer in their own ways, adding information and providing those teachable moments that you just can’t plan for or design.

To wit:

“What is the Cluck Cluck Clan?”
“Those were the people who covered their faces like they were playin’ and didn’t like the black people…but it wasn’t like play.”

“What if they told us our dark skinned friends can’t be in our class!”

“NO!”

“Why did Martin and his brother and sister mess with the leg of the piano stool?”
“Because they didn’t want to take their piano lesson!”

“My gramma said her gramma was a slave.”
“Did you ever hear if she whipped? Do ya think think it hurt?”

Some of these required quick thinking to dispel some misinformation (“They were called the “Klu Klux Clan and yes, in public they did cloak their faces”) and a gentle balance of what information simply answers the question without giving more detail than the audience (or the teacher) is equipped to handle. There were portions discussions last week, that I honestly can’t recall exactly what I said because it was happening so swiftly.  But I remember thinking over and over, “I just can’t believe how much these kids know. They are so sensitive… so open to taking people for who and what they are… so literal!”  Many of the accounts of MLK’s childhood do reveal how much he was like any other child, and much to my delight, my readers recognized this. There were chants of “I have a text to self connection…. we sing at church, too!” Or “text to world connection — he wanted black and white children to be friends and we are all friends! Martian Luther King’s dream came true like we are working on our hopes to come true in first grade!” (no typo here – several continue to call him “Martian,” and they are the same kids who mistaken called the hearing impaired “death” when we were researching the sign language.)  Most reading teachers dream of kids reading smoothly and making rich connections between the book and their own life. There were so many rich connections between the life of MLK and my first grader’s life this week that it was a bit dreamy.  This bit of pixie dust was certainly one of my blessings of the week!

We’re also researching families by writing in journals weekly with our families, interviewing an older family member to find out more about how life was “then” compared to our own experiences and to learn more about our family’s heritage. Throughout our reading of the MLK biographies, children saw real examples of the role grandparents played in his life and connected to their own. They also gained a bit more perspective on what life was 40, 50, 60 years ago. I am sure as these little folks interview their older relatives, many will be asking questions about slavery and civil rights. How astute of a six year old to be thinking that way and what a wonderful opportunity to learn from your own family. I can’t wait to hear about the interviews and about the experiences of our families.

While reading certain phrases in these well-worn biographies brings chills down my arms, I found myself nearly choked up by the fact that these children – this generation – simply finds the practices of the 1950s and 1060s unconscionable. It’s beyond their comprehension to consider race as the basis for friendship, rights, or one’s dignity. For some, this innocence may be lost down the road, but I have utmost faith that we have overcome.  These children have a very different future ahead of them. As we tried to contain the myriad of comments and connections that seemed to flying out mouths faster than I could keep track of, I subdued the crowd by asking if I could share one more thought before recess. I told them the thing that struck me now, was that here we were 40 years after MLK’s death (and yes, we discussed that one and what became of James Earl Ray), and what was happening next week was that… “A HA!” interrupted one child. “Imagine what Martin Luther King would say to Barak Obama?!” “I do wonder,” I said as I turned the page back to the words Christine King Farris wrote in My Brother Martin, ‘someday Mother Dear, I am going to turn this world upside down.’ Now Dr. King isn’t here to see this inauguration, but I know in my heart that he has helped turn the world upside down. “

I am part of a generation, and witness to the next generation, who believe what they believe because of the work Martin Luther King and others did. There is always wonder in the words and strengths of our children. There certainly was magic among these six and seven year olds this week and that combined with the magic of the making of history, felt like magic pixie dust to me.

One thought on “Pixie Dust

  1. I read the poem you sent home about MLK to the boys yesterday (and was promptly told by James that his name was Martin Luther King JUNIOR) – and the second thing he commented on was, “the man who shot him has my name.” I found both comments interesting: one, they love to correct adults – but that just means they are listening carefully. Two, they see the world through themselves still (maybe we all do) and look to make sense of difficult information by relating it to their own lives.
    Thank you for sharing this. We had heard bits and pieces of the discussion from class and are glad to know the context.

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