The week before Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday I did a lesson that turned out to be one of my favorites thus far. I was a little nervous about doing it (you'll see why), but stepping out of my comfort zone proved successful.
My second graders gathered in the front for story time and I began by asking them leading questions about MLK Day. Right in the middle of our conversation, I interrupted and said, "Oh shoot! I almost forgot! I have candy for you guys." Obviously they were excited. Receiving unexpected Tootsie Rolls from your teacher qualifies as pretty awesome. Hell, it's pretty awesome if you get unexpected Tootsie Rolls when you're 26. So anyway, I begin passing out the candy but (and this part is important) ONLY to the boys.
At first there is a feeling of confusion. One brave girl raises her hand and says, "Miss Gibbs, you forgot the girls." "Oh no," I say, "just the boys get candy today." "Why," another girl asks incredulously. "Oh, I just like them better," I say breezily.
Okay, let's get one thing straight. I sound pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, but inside I'm paralyzed with fear that one of these children is going to knife me for not giving them a Tootsie Roll. The boys are obviously pretty happy, but seem a little suspicious of my gift. Some of them didn't even eat their Tootsie Roll, but just sat there looking guiltily at the girls.
The girls on the other hand are clearly angry with me. I am receiving stink eyes from left and right. These girls are so angry that I am full prepared to back out of this lesson altogether. Unfortunately I have nothing else planned so the show must go on.
Fearing for my safety, I quickly segue into the book I've selected for the day, Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo. This book does an excellent job of making MLK's life and the civil rights movement accessible and understandable to children. The kids love it and are totally engrossed. The book is over, it was a success, but now we have to talk about the Tootsie Rolls again. Keep in mind that I'm still getting the stink eye.
"So, girls. How did you feel when you didn't get candy?" I ask. Mad seems to be the general consensus. If they were adults instead of 2nd graders they probably would have said, "I was really fucking pissed, Miss Gibbs!" Thankfully they can't.
Now it's the boys turn and this is when it becomes a Full House "awww!" moment. When I ask the boys how they felt when they got candy, multiple kids said they were happy, "but kind of sad too, because the girls didn't get to have a piece." You said "awww", right?! Just wait! It gets better!
In the book, the author discusses the fact that black children didn't get to use the same water fountains as white children, or sit in the front of the bus, or even go to the same school as white children. The kids found this especially fascinating and asked a lot of questions. After the book, when were discussing our feelings about the candy, one of my favorite students (G) raises his hand. I ask him what he'd like to share and he says, "It was sad that the girls didn't get candy, but a long time ago when Martin Luther King was alive and those kids couldn't go to school together? That was a lot sadder. This was just a piece of candy."
See I told you it was an "awww" moment. I can't even make this stuff up. Screw this blog, I need to start writing a cheesy sitcom about a lovable school librarian and her precocious students. Think Head of the Class, but with a hotter lead. Don't worry, every episode would end with a meaningful life lesson.