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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

no back of the bus here

Last week the entire second grade class at Ella's school put on a civil rights play. It is an annual production for second graders and follows nicely on the heels of Martin Luther King Day and a unit they do on civil rights.

Allow me to say that, despite all the concerns I have about Ella being in the mainstream of public school with the big class, the standardized tests and the pressures of conformity, what the second grade team pulled off here touched and amazed me.

We talk to Ella about social issues all the time.  During any particular evening at our house you could overhear a discussion on gay rights, global warming, the need to recycle, racism or the need to be mindful and considerate of those with disabilities.  We had, of course, covered the highlights of the civil rights movement with her (especially during the election last fall) but it hadn't seemed to stick the way it did when she learned about it in school.

For most of January, Ella peppered me with questions about the whys and the hows of segregation and desegregation. I had to talk to her about slavery and prejudice. I had to let some of the real world into her bubble when I told her these awful truths about the world. 

When I was a child learning about war in history class, the Revolutionary War specifically,  I remember being utterly dumbfounded.  The opposing sides marched toward each other in lines and shot guns?  Whoever had the most people left standing won?  This made no logical sense to my child's mind (just as it makes no sense to my adult mind today).  Ella's reaction was the same.  People disliked and even hated each other because of something as basic and innate as the color of their skin?  It hit her very hard when I described that it would be the same if people were treated differently because they had blond hair or brown hair. 

"But that is so unfair," she said, visibly moved.

And what a powerful way to drive the point home to have each of the 5 second grade classes perform a skit about the civil rights movement.  They did "I have a dream" ,the Woolworth's lunch counter where white people threw food at blacks for sitting in the "wrong" seats, and Ella's class got to Rosa parks on the bus.

(The pictures are from way far away and then enlarged so the quality is poor, but you can get the idea.)

In between each skit, the kids sang equality themed songs.

Ella, who looked nervous at times, had a few relaxed moments.
Here is Ella as "bus passenger 1."  Kids could say if they wanted a small, medium or big part (everyone did have to have a speaking part) and she asked for a small one.  She said she didn't know it would be that small.  Here she is on the bus, just in front of Rosa Parks (an incredible performance by one of her classmates if I do say so). The bus driver (in the hat) comes back to ask Rosa to move out of the "white" seat and she refuses.  

 Ella then gives her line, saying, "I wonder what's going to happen" to which her friend Julia (in front of her) replies, "I don't know but I'm not going to wait around and find out" and then they bolt. It was actually quite funny and the audience chuckled, leaving Ella to say later, "I don't get why that was so funny."

And here is Skyler during a song and then giving her lines. She did an awesome job as the news reporter during the March On Washington.

By far my favorite part, second only to Ella delivering her line in a clear, bold voice, was when the entire second grade linked arms and sang, "We shall overcome." I had a moment, a big one, and wished I had a lighter. I worked hard to sit in my seat and not jump up and rejoice, thus plunging my child into social isolation for having the crazy mother.  I was successful.
It was a beautiful play and I was so proud of the kids, the teachers, and our (unfortunately) rather homogeneous community for giving voice and meaning to something that happened long ago but needs to be taught and remembered and never repeated.  These kids are our future.  May we arm them with all the information they need to be fair, equality-minded people.
Who knows, perhaps in a few years when Maya is in kindergarten they would like the gays to come in a do a play on Stonewall and Harvey Milk.

1 comment:

jan said...

It wasn't that long ago to ME! It was great tho

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