powerful moments in education
Like most normal people, I spent the day thinking about anti- websites.curriculum. And since I have no shortage of opinions or mood swings, my post started early in the car this morning, as gentle memory waves about reading novels– to an evening mental hurricane, deeply searching and reading critically through
I can remember it clearly- 10th grade history- and I flipped forward through my obese, emotionless textbook to the chapter on. The feeling of questions swimming in my head is still familiar, as I stared at the black and white photo on the chapter’s cover page. My curiosity was quickly vacuumed from my mind as we were directed to turn to Chapter 1. Whatever that was. Probably those silly, naive pilgrims again, or worse yet, early European explorers. (It is important to note that I respect the bravery of the pilgrims.) I knew that yet again, the first 1/2 of the book would be read, questions answered, boring movies watched…and then it would be May and oh well…recent history gets brushed over or rushed, like lunch in a teacher’s room.
At some point, I became infatuated with Holocaust-themed books, both fiction and non. Of course, I read The Diary of Anne Frank many times, struck over and over by how real the story was for me. I read The Devil’s Arithmetic by at least 3 times- a haunting story of a present day Jewish girl with a desire for a tattoo and a disconnect from her family’s history, who disappears during a traditional dinner through a door into the concentration camps- and experiences the horror. Reading Number the Stars over and over still leaves me wondering how the family survived emotionally after escaping to Sweden, the tale of their secret escape so vivid in my memory. Luckily, I had the motivation and reading abilities to seek out the raw emotions related to these historical events that I was NOT really learning about in school. I possessed an ability to connect and question, and though I think my comprehension skills were spotty for the most part, when my heart was in the topic, I got it. This is concerning! How many topics did I miss out on exploring? How many kids out there miss out every year???
I am not really sure why I was so immersed in the lives of people affected by the Holocaust, but this theme of connecting with diverse cultural groups continued through my learning career. I had zero memorable or notable history teachers at school, but I had plenty of teachers through the words of historical fiction novels. Perhaps it was the author’s ability to make these characters REAL to me, allowing me, a white Christian girl from Western Pennsylvania, to connect with people of other cultures, of religious beliefs.
And it doesn’t stop with history- I have seen RENT more than 10 times and can perform each character, the entire musical, in my car, and I STILL feel it grasp my heart show after show. I mean- I know how it ends, how can I possibly still stare with tears in my eyes and feel disbelief, feel sympathy? I took a friend once, and he totally hated it, said that he “couldn’t possibly connect with and drug addicts because he wasn’t one”… So much I just wanted him to feel the connection with the human condition- the condition that truly, all people want to be loved.
So, we move full circle back to…Columbus Day. Oh Columbus. Where do I begin? Well- I’ll keep my researched facts and general opinions of the validity of this “holiday” brief. In my research, I happily found many alternatives that are celebrated. I also learned that while it is a Federal holiday, it is not recognized by all states, such as Nevada (some sources noted), Hawaii (for their own personal discovery reasons), and of course, in the land of progressive thinkers: California. In South Dakota, they celebrate Native American day and in parts of California Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated. What a slap in the face to anyone of American Indian descent for this to be on our calendar! I read, though I need to investigate more, that it is recognized in Puerto Rico, but shares the day with “Puerto Rican Friendship Day”.
I’ll be fair- maybe without him we would still think the world was flat. So, do we give a day to ancient philosophers and astronomers who arrived at this ages ago? In the end, I really do not think that, for me at least, this is about Columbus Day. It’s about the fact that I do not know the story well enough about the people who first encountered him one morning, on what was the beginning of the end of beautiful, harmonious, native life.
Much like the path my thoughts took today, I have no controlled, organized way to wrap up these thoughts. Perhaps I just want to encourage people, you, me…everyone…to look for the human condition- we all share it and should explore the times where this was ignored- and be prepared to feel it, really feel it- and maybe even speak up for it. The people and lives behind it all—holocaust, genocide, starvation, homelessness, drug addiction, civil war…it’s all out there. We can’t ignore it because it’s sad, because someone’s story is not being told, not being felt strongly enough. Read about it. Feel it. Your old history text book will never know, I promise.
My next read? Morning Girl by Michael Dorris.