Monday, February 18, 2008

Teaching About Slavery

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.


Heather said...

I remember when we rowed Who Owns the Sun ... I thought it was such an awesome book and had the same feelings you are expressing here. We then read "If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, Jr." for his birthday week. It was hard, but we had wonderful discussions about slavery and racism.

Just the other night we read Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. Lydia loves this book - Gran gave it to her. I have seen her reading it, but didn't know exactly what it was about. When we settled in the bed to read it Lydia told me that she liked the book a lot, but the end was really sad. So we set off to read it. It is a heart-wrenching story about a black man and his mom and a white man during the civil war in America. It's beautifully well-written and a great story about the reality of war, especially civil war, and it's a picture book.

I am so thankful to be able to have these discussions with my 7-year-old too. And I am thankful that she listens and her heart is open to the truth about these things and the truth of equality.


Angela said...

Yes, it is a blessing to be able to talk with them about these things. I am hoping that yesterday, being her first exposure to slavery, will be the hardest day for her and that she will have an easier day of it today as we start her lapbook.

The book she read herself yesterday was "Now Let Me Fly" It is really good, but like the first page of the book states, "It isn't a pleasant story and it doesn't end in happily ever after."

As much as I wish I could keep her in her sweet, innocent, bubble forever; that would be such an injustice to her. I can tell already that Graycen will be a fighter against things that are so wrong as slavery. She is so very compassionate.

Creech Family said...

How wonderful to be able to share their hearts as well as their minds! Right now my oldest daughter is going through a very difficult time due to a terrible tragedy that happened with a friend. She has poured out her heart to me in a way that makes mine ache with hers and also makes me rejoice that she felt she could turn to Mom for comfort and advice about this injustice. Her comment to me this afternoon was that she was glad I couldn't shelter her from the injustices of the world (which I often want to do!) because it is often in those most grievious times that we learn to lean on the Lord the most and learn such sweet and deep lessons about how HE is so different from this sinful world and how HE is always, always there with every small or large problem for us to lean on and learn from. I think we often assume that young children cannot learn this (or maybe just our protective natures make us not want them to have to learn them!) and yet those are precisely the things that teach them about sin and a God who loves sinners as long as we go to Him with a repentant heart. But yet also they seem to very easily understand that even though God forgives it is so much better to love and obey and not cause such grief. I know that with my oldest children I grossly underestimated their spiritual understanding at young ages when their hearts were so tender and am grieved that I did not teach them in a much deeper way at a much younger age. Sorry, I didn't mean to ramble on but I think it is just so precious and wonderful that you are lovingly teaching your children from a tender age, even when it is hard to see them face some harsh realities. Take care and have a great week in the Lord!!

Belle in Bloom said...

I understand what you meant about watching her lose a little of her innocence. I've felt that way this year with my oldest. After learning and understanding new topics, like slavery for one, I've seen his face and eyes look differently than I've ever seen them. Like he has seen the world in a new light, and it's not good. However, creech family was right. In these new revelations he's had, I'm always surprised to see him relate it to God's word or how he thinks God would react to it. It does take these "life lessons" to not only grow spiritually, but into loving, humane people.

Belle in Bloom said...

BTW, I hope everyone is feeling better at your house. We have been puke-free for a day and a half! Woo-Hoo! :)