Sunday, February 21, 2016

Planting Seeds of Justice

My class recently completed a biographical study on Rosa Parks.  Most of the third graders knew who Rosa Parks was and even knew that she refused to give up her seat when James Blake demanded her to do so.  They attended a musical at the Overture theater and learned more of her determination to make a change, and of her perseverance and persistence.   It is in third grade that children begin to dig deeper into the civil rights movement more than ever before. Students were introduced to terms like boycott, protest, and discrimination with examples that made them cry out at the injustice.  They made connections with the Black Lives Matter movement and (as they have every year) shockingly turned to their friends with black skin and said "We wouldn't have been able to be in school together or to be friends." Well, as Rosa Parks said, "Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome."  Each year, no, each day I try to strive to make a difference in the lives of children.  Third graders long for justice. They have a clear understanding of right and wrong. Just cut in front of a third grader in line and you will hear the cries of injustice. In all seriousness, third graders are passionate about injustices and are often befuddled at how there are adults that fail to recognize injustice or inequity and that adults carry out horrifying acts of hate.  I guess I am childlike, because it still astounds me.

This last Thursday was A Day Without Latinos, an organized march and protest in Madison, WI.  The protesters were opposed to the Senate Bill 533 which attempts to block counties from issuing identification cards to individuals who cannot get state issued IDs. They also marched to oppose Assembly Bill 450, legislation that would allow the police to investigate immigration status and possibly leading to deportation and detainment. My head had been in the classroom, planning,  and teaching cycle so much that I almost missed this news.  Oh how I longed to march and pull my own kids out of school and protest.  Yet I hadn't asked off in advance.  There were students from our school who went with their families, yet my day went on as usual; I only checked the news at lunch time. I missed an opportunity to protest for my Latino students, to advocate for them against a  system that threatens their family and well being.  My heart was there in spirit.  Is that enough?

The daily grind as usual is grinding me down this time of year.  So I ask myself, what can I do?  What can I do to fight for the rights of my African-American students, my Latino students, my Hmong students, my African students?  Am I fighting within the system or fighting the system? What am I doing to fight systemic racism and is it enough? I would like to believe that as an educator, I am planting seeds of justice in my students and my own children so they might become like the mighty oak and hold their ground as Rosa Parks did...but is planting seeds enough?