Only at The San Francisco School would you find 8th graders singing children’s Halloween songs alternating with 60’s protest songs while across the hall an Indian woman with her husband from Guinea, West Africa, was leading a dance with 100 preschoolers and elementary students to celebrate Diwali. Either our kids are hopelessly confused or else they understand that life is to be wholly embraced and celebrated in all its myriad colors and sounds and gestures and stories and while it matters to understand what Halloween, Diwali and the Civil Rights movement each means, they all are joined at the root.
So to backtrack a bit. Halloween is…well, Halloween, but at our school it has a different twist with an intense ritual involving a Mother Goose rhyme, Intery Mintery, performed by every one of the 100 children in the elementary school in an event that involves Orff instruments, Indonesian angklung and Bulgarian bagpipe. Close on its heels is the Mexican Day of the Dead, with altars found throughout the school and the songs and stories that go with that.
Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival of light that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. (11 days out from our election, we can only hope people will vote with these victories in mind!) With the increase in Indian immigrants come to work in Silicon Valley, I can imagine that this holiday will find its way deeper into our school in a similar manner to Chinese New Year. The dance the kids learned today leaned a bit to the Bollywood side and there was some African inflection from the dancer’s husband drummer, but hey! why not?
And the Minnie Jean in the title is Minnie Jean Brown-Trickey, one of the Little Rock 9 who integrated Central High School in 1957 escorted by the National Guard. She spent three days with us telling her remarkable story and answering the kids’ well-thought-out questions. We ended with an assembly, of course with song to frame the story and the feelings—Free at Last, If I Had a Hammer, Eyes on the Prize, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, We Shall Overcome and two South African freedom songs. The kids raised the roof with Spirit and in our elementary session welcoming her, there was a deep silence after the last notes of We Shall Overcome that these remarkable kids were able to hold without giggling or nervously chatting. I finally said, “Well, there’s only one song we can sing after a song like that” and off we went into Intery Mintery. It was the perfect choice, showing how quickly the kids could—and needed to— move from the grief of our broken world and our charge to them to help fix it to this whimsical rhyme and all the fun of Halloween.
Nothing could be sadder than all the efforts of so many in this confused country to separate, wall out, deport, denounce, put down all those who be choice or birth or circumstance, dare to be different from their neighbor. Besides all the unnecessary harm and hurt and pain and suffering, these people are missing out on so much fun! In just one day at our school, the ancient Celts, Mexicans, Indians, West Africans, Indonesians, Bulgarians, South Africans, African-Americans and more were represented and what a fine party that was!
Maybe some day Minnijean-Diwaliween will become a national holiday.