We are rowing Who Owns the Sun, by Stacey Chbosky. It is ROUGH. It is a beautiful story, but it is so, very sad story about a child realizing that they , and their family, are slaves.
A few years ago, Graycen went to preschool. In her class, she made a friend named Bethany. When they had their class photo taken, she was eager to show me who Bethany was. As I rode in the passenger seat and she was in the back in her car seat, she tried to explain to me which little girl was Bethany. "Her shirt is red." she said. There were a couple with red shirts. "She has a hair-bow in her hair." she said. MANY had hair bows. She went on to point out two or three things about Bethany and I still couldn't make out, by her descriptions, who her new little best friend was. Imagine how my heart melted when we finally reached our destination and she pointed to the only African American girl in the class. She could have easily identified her by her skin color, but she didn't realize the difference. Obviously, Bethany had a different color skin and I am sure that Graycen SAW it, but she didn't find it significant enough of a difference to point it out in an effort to differentiate between any of the other girls in the class. It was a complete non-issue. It was an illustration to me of her heart.
It isn't easy teaching a 7 yr old and a 6 y old about slavery. In some ways, I feel like today my 7 yr old lost a little of her innocence :( . I feel like she has been looking at this world with her big, beautiful, blue eyes and she has seen everything so pretty. Today, as if I was shifting lenses like the optometrist does when you are looking through that big contraption they have you look through, I removed one of the layers of rose she has been looking through. She has seen a side of this world now that has made her very sad. She has a compassionate heart and it hurt that tender heart of hers to know that people were EVER treated that way. She read another book today that told the story of one (fictional) slave family. When she was finished, she buried her head in the couch.
As sad as it makes me to see her have these realizations, I think it is important for her to know the history of our nation and to know (in small, age-appropriate portions) about this great sin of slavery. She needs to understand that people can easily loose track of even basic humanity and make grave errors that effect many generations of people. She is being raised in a time when she may very well have an African American President. Even though I am not a supporter of this particular candidate, I think it is absolutely wonderful that is is even a possibility. I am glad that she will know such a stark contrast to these times that she is learning about now, but it makes it almost as important for her to learn about what DID happen. That is the only way that she will ever be able to stand against it, should history ever tempt to repeat itself in some horrible manifestation of the same sin again.
As I said before though, we are taking small steps into this and even as early as tomorrow will be talking about The Emmancipation Proclamation and other legislation that eventually made free men of all. As she gets older, we will delve deeper into it all and I am sure my heart will break for her again when we learn about hings like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. This is the hard part of teaching. It is even HARDER to be the parent during these heart-heavy lessons. The good news is that, because I am the parents AND the teacher right now, I can sit and cry with them through it.