Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tell the Truth (Guest Blog by Talia Goodkin)


I think I've had a healthy dose of parent pride for my two daughters their whole lives. So it comes as no surprise that my second daughter, Talia, posted a letter to teachers on Facebook that made me think, "Yeah! That's my girl!" {Though she might suggest some sexism there—:-) } So with her permission, I share it here, with (of course) one editorial comment. She teaches 4th grade at my school, an age when they’re right at the developmental cusp of being able to handle some difficult discussion. But as Red-Diaper Babies can testify, too much truth too soon is a delicate matter heaped on the narrow shoulders of young children. There is an art to knowing how much to tell and when and where and why. Emily Dickinson suggested this a long time ago— her poem below and then Talia's letter:
Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant. Success in circuit lies.
Too bright for our infirm delight, the Truth’s superb surprise.
As lightning to the children eased, with explanations kind.
The Truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.

Dear Teachers,
I hope you talked to your students about why we don't have school on Monday. I hope you dedicated the time and thought to Martin Luther King Jr. that he deserves . I hope you didn't just show his "I have a dream" speech and call it a day. 
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you didn't tell them with a sugar-coated smile that "the color of your skin doesn't matter." I hope you corrected that tired and ignorant catch phrase that liberal white people say to ameliorate their own guilt. I hope you told them that race SHOULDN'T matter, at least in terms of how we are treated. I hope you told them it does. I hope you took their hands in yours and told them that unfortunately, it does.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you told them that King's dream remains just that. I hope you told them it is our responsibility to keep fighting for equality, to keep engaging with people who insist that racism is a thing of the past. I hope you told them to listen. To listen to everyone's story.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you talked about Ferguson and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. I hope you showed them the long list. I hope the class together took a moment of silence to honor the senselessly dead. I hope you talked about Randolph Evans, Nathaniel Gaines, Jr., Clifford Glover, Emmett Till, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Kendrec McDade, Patrick Dorismond, Wendell Allen, Sean Bell, Darius Simmons, Devin Brown, Stephon Watts, Kenneth Banks, Timothy Stansbury, Dante Price, and Tamir Rice.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you analyzed the reasons behind the hasthags #blacklivesmatter, #handsupdontshoot. and #wecantbreathe . I hope you also showed them #crimingwhilewhite . I hope you scrolled through the stories one by one and thought about the outcome had the perpetrator been black. I hope they understand how white people can fight racism by acknowledging their privilege.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you talked about various forms of protest. I hope you read Langston Hughes and showed them the mighty power of a poem. I hope you sang protest songs all together and picked apart the lyrics afterwards. I hope you sang "We Shall Overcome" and I hope you let a tear escape. So they know that you care.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you talked about other civil rights leaders as well. I hope you talked about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers and Dorothy Height and John Hammond and Josephine Baker and Mary McCleod Bethune and Muhammed Ali and Nelson Mandela and Nikki Giovanni and Nina Simone and Pearl S. Bucks and Daisy Bates and Ruby Bridges and Bayard Rustin and Huey Lewis and Thurgood Marshall and W.E.B. Dubois.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you made an empty tissue box into a place where they could write their questions down on index cards and drop them, anonymously. I hope you said that no question is a stupid one. I hope you read each one and wove the answers into your lesson planning. I hope you conveyed the complexities of said answers. I hope you refused to let them categorize people as "good" or "bad."
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you talked to them about why it's a big deal that Quvenzhané Wallis is playing "Annie" in the soon to be released major motion picture. I hope you showed them how Target put a white girl in the same dress to sell it. I hope you asked them to do a ten minute journal response on why. I hope you told them about the tweets back and forth between Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks. I hope you talked about cultural appropriation.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you made sure they knew that Civil Rights is not synonymous with black rights. I hope you connected the dots between all movements of the oppressed. I hope you made big class lists with sharpies of all the different "isms" we are fighting off. I hope you included the misuse of power by systems and institutions in your definitions of each one. I hope you read them Martin Niemoller's anti-Nazi poem. I hope that last line- "And then they came for me and there was no one left to stand up" - gave them all chills.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you spent time with your class library making sure there were books with main characters of color. I hope you read picture books with characters of color. I hope some of those picture books were not entirely ABOUT being a person of color. I hope you talked about Ebonics and the corrupt power structure of language. I hope during one of your read alouds, when a student in the front scrunched their nose, and said, "
That's bad grammar!" that you stopped. That you stopped and talked about it as a class. That you didn't publicly scold her. That you welcomed the opportunity. That you recognized the gift that a "teachable moment" is.
I hope you told them the truth.
I hope you were scared to teach. I hope you fretted about doing more harm than good. I hope you got some angry emails from parents. I hope you were called in to talk to administration. I hope you were honest with yourself about your triumphs and the holes in your teaching. I hope you had moments of pure and utter panic. But I hope you didn't stop.
I hope you told them the truth.
Because it's too important to keep telling them lies.

1 comment:

  1. Is it your daughter? Not you? Anyway it is so true... Love it!!

    ReplyDelete