Articles by Me

 

Art in the Classroom: A Special Part of Every Day

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Editing, Permission to Start Wrong Early Childhood Research & Practice, an electronic  journal of ERIC-ECE, Spring, 1999

Painting a Tragedy: Young Children Process the Events of September 11 (PDF) by Toni Gross & Sydney Gurewitz Clemens
Published in Young Children May, 2002

At this link you will find my article on helping children through a tragedy, with other resources, on Marie Catrett’s webpage.

Here’s a link to  Community Playthings’ bookletWisdom of Play.  I have a short article in it.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, a short entry in an early childhood encyclopedia

Sylvia Ashton-Warner Goes to Reggio Emilia (PDF)
Printed in Dimensions of Early Childhood, Vol. 34, No. 2, Spring/Summer 2006
A publication of the Southern Early Childhood Association, Little Rock, Arkansas

MORE articles by me below…

Babytalk: Toward Stress-Free Conversations with Children Under Four
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Talking with Baby: Toward Stress-Free Conversations with Children Under Four

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, M.A, Early Childhood Education and Supervision

My intention in writing this is to offer a two-or three-page bit of advice to people who are going to start talking with babies and toddlers … these people might be childcare workers, or au pairs, or parents-to-be … or foster parents … whomever. But the principle is the same …

A baby is a real person, capable of initiating conversation or responding to it from early, early on. This communication can be with or without words, just as it can be for older children and adults. Infants and toddlers learn to trust their own ability to communicate when they are listened to and responded to in ways that let them know their communications are heard and valued. Your adult joy, rather than your job, is to share the pleasure of conversation, to wait for responses from babies, helping them learn that verbal and nonverbal communication are the bridges that connect people. No tests, no challenges, no showing off are needed.

Just talking with each other, respectfully and attentively.

Let me tell you a story I call: “What’s that letter? Who’s the President? What’s this color?”

The parents of the eighteen month toddler introduced me to their child. They were older, highly educated, well-to-do parents, clearly in love with the child, and proud as they could be. They had bought a puzzle rug, whose parts were in bright primary colors, and the letters and numbers embedded in the rug were removable. The child brought me a letter, and said “T.” Then she brought me a book about the letter K. These were her toys, and she had made good use of them. The parents were particularly proud of the answer to the “Who’s the President?” question, since the child was so cunning when, after a few prompts, she said “Boosh.” To me this appeared to be a series of tests, with the child passing them all.

The child’s uncle and I had just arrived. I was to spend a few days with this family. It was after ten in the evening. We were standing in the hallway. And what I saw had made me very anxious. The parents were coaching the child, “Tell Sydney what this is!” and not noticing that their child wasn’t interested in this showing off and I was substantially stressed by their child’s discomfort. I like to let toddlers get to know me at their leisure, not in a pressured way like this.

The baby didn’t get to sleep until after twelve-thirty. By then Mom had explained to me that this child “just doesn’t sleep. “
And she didn’t get to sleep early for the rest of the four nights I stayed there.

However the child had no difficulty falling asleep for her nap when the housekeeper, a Latina grandmother, calm, quiet, undemanding, would take the child to a quiet place and rock her for a bit. Always, with her parents, Felicia would fight sleep. And they would leave the bedroom, and begin the questions again, playing in the way they knew. “What’s that letter? What color is that? Who’s the president?”

Later, and more than once, I saw the child bang her head on the floor. The mother rushed to stop her, picking her up, obviously pained at the child’s self-destructive act, and also somewhat concerned about how I’d perceive this. I mentioned “Usually that’s a sign of stress.” Mom didn’t inquire, and I had gotten other clues that my advice/opinion weren’t wanted, so that’s all I said.
As well-meaning as the parents are in trying to educate their child, it would take a major transformation in their thinking to create the space for all of them to feel relaxed in the enjoyment of one another’s company. I’m glad the housekeeper is part of their story, since she is willing to help the baby find calm and comfort. But I’m worried for this baby.

OK … if we’re not going to show off baby’s ability to name things and speak clearly, how are we going to relate to her instead?
As I mentioned, I like to meet toddlers differently. I sit down on a low chair or the floor, and am open. The child checks me out, and approaches when she or he has decided I’m interesting. I even ask infants in arms if I may hold them. (I don’t expect an answer, but I have learned that some form of conversation often does take place, with each of us using the language tools we have developed so far.) I keep it very low key, because I can trust the child’s interest in the world and her curiosity to bring us into relationship, without my challenging anything.

So what do you say to an infant or a child? Watch skilled baby-people.

sportscast … “You’re looking at the tree leaves. You like to see them move.”
“You’re interested in playing with those children.”
“You’re looking at the sandbox. I’ll help you go there.”

extend vocabulary … “Ba? You’d like me to throw you the ball?”
“Yes, you’ve got some peanut butter on your elbow.”

play with language … “You’ve got your toes in the squishy, splishy mud.”
“Jennifer, Jennister, Guinevere. Lovely names”

follow the lead of the child … ”What is catching your eye? Is it that bug?”
“You’d like to go there? I’ll go with you.”

And never ask a question to which you know the answer.

This means questions like “What color is this?” and “What’s this number?” are not permitted. If playing with love, one can ask “Where’s your nose?” and then admire that pretty little nose. But don’t let this kind of demanding become central to your interaction with children.

Think about the difference you feel, in conversation with another adult, when you are asked, on the one hand “What’s the square root of 317?” and on the other hand, “What kind of food do you enjoy?” We want the same respectful questioning — and never testing — to be characteristic of our interactions with babies.

Another important way to communicate with a child is not to say anything at all. By being fully attentive to a child who is fully engaged in play we communicate a respect for the child’s learning process. Imagine interrupting Edison as he was about to make an important discovery. Children are making discoveries all the time … as they try to make sense of their world. Let them do it without interruptions. This takes sensitivity on the adult’s part. Learning when to speak and when to be quiet. I like to think of this as the children’s gift to us … giving us the opportunity to learn all that communication can be.

March 31, 2003

A Dialectic of Trust
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A Dialectic of Trust

I read this phrase somewhere in Jack Zipes’ writing recently. It has stopped me often since … I think it describes what is present in Reggio Emilia schools, and mostly absent in ours.

To be different, not to be twins, not to have the same experience, not to believe in the same strategies, to come from two different places: To discuss a difference and see where we can go, with each party listening closely and trying to bridge the gap, a kind of zigzag communication between two people with a difference — a difference, for example, about caps and gowns for preschool graduation, about the role of holidays in the school, about phonics.

That’s the `dialectic’ part.

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And: to do this knowing … really knowing … that you both want what’s best, that between your truth and the Other’s is something truer than either, that complicated problems do not have simple solutions and that you will still be friends after the discussion.

You are two people trying to make sense of the world, together. That’s the trust part. Why do the Italians have this? Why do we lack it? I have this dialectic with Dee Epps-Miller, my teaching partner. We have different histories and appearances, we have different styles and gifts … but she knows I am for the children in the ways that matter to her, and I know she is for the children in the ways that matter to me. The big ones. In detail, we diverge … and when we discover a divergence, we are interested in it. We explore it.

Sometimes one of us modifies her opinion, sometimes both, sometimes neither. We find it worthwhile.  Neither of us needs to defend against the other … the Work is what matters, and the searching.

How come we can and others, so many others, can’t? The perspective of each strengthens the knowledge base of the other. How come we can do this with each other, while others, so many others, can’t? What’s that about? Why are people turf-y and why do they take a different “hit” on a subject as a threat? Why are some teachers apparently unconcerned with making sense of the world? Why do some teachers always cling to what they have been doing, unwilling or unable to think in terms of children and their needs and modify what they have been doing based upon that analysis. Why are so many early childhood work situations characterized by rule-making and coercion rather than by problem solving?

I have no illusions that it will be easy to find solutions to this problem. Why do so many caregivers feel so much apathy? Why so many instances of resistance and passive-aggression? As educators we have taken on the important work of raising children to be caring and thoughtful and responsible and knowledgeable and skillful and wise.

If we don’t work together, if we don’t learn from each other and help each other improve our work, we cannot rise to a high level, the level that has been exemplified for us in Reggio. How can we make each other safe enough to do the job we set out to do?

If we cannot trust one another, how can we teach children to trust? If we do not trust one another, why should children trust us?

(C) Copyright Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, 1997

Denying or Affirming Language: Reading, Writing, and Speaking in Standard English
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Denying or Affirming Language: Reading, Writing, and Speaking in Standard English

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

“The philosophic aim of education must be to get each one out of his isolated class and into the one humanity.”

—Paul Goodman

ABSTRACT:  Young children enter American schools with many home languages. Some are nonstandard forms of English and others are languages of other countries. What constitutes best practices in language instruction for these children becomes, from time to time, a political question. This paper proposes that the home language be prized and honored, that the child be instructed in ways that make sense to the child, and that adding Standard English to the child’s mother tongue be done in ways that do not raise resistance and shame in children. The road to Goodman’s “one humanity” winds through all our languages.

How do we learn English?  Each story is unique.

I am the grandchild of four people who grew up speaking Yiddish and Russian. They came to this country from Russia in the first decade of this century. They learned English, which they spoke with accents. My maternal grandmother wrote English phonetically, so you could hear her accent in her writing. My paternal grandfather, a businessman, was as meticulous in speaking English and writing English as in wearing business suits and ties.

My parents spoke Standard, unaccented, elaborate English. They learned the accents of the radio, not of their parents. They spoke a little Yiddish with their parents, but (sadly) never thought to teach me any. So I know that people can learn to speak English differently than their parents do.

My son and daughter speak as I do, when they are with me. My daughter, who is African-American and adopted, also speaks Ebonics. She learned it during her elementary school years, from other African-Americans (her friends and their parents.) She still speaks standard English at work and to white people, including me.

Because, perhaps, of these interesting linguistic turns my family has negotiated, and because of my experience and research in early childhood education I am very interested in how we best offer young children a second language in school, never shaming them because they speak their first.

When we shame them, they either withdraw from intellectual work so as to avoid further shame, or they re-enter the educational world and have to undo what has been done. These remedial writing skills come hard… When I was on the faculty of Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, CA. I taught a class called Assessment By Life Experience (ABLE) for adults over 25. This was a class for mature students who were earning credit by writing papers about their life experience.  My students had the highest pass rate for this course over a period of years, so my dean asked me for ‘my secret formula’.

Each student had four papers (20 pages, typewritten) to write;  and several presentations.  All were in the area of human development. About a fifth of the students, mature though they were, couldn’t write. Typically, they said, “I can’t write, but I need to get through this class.” They could think well enough for the work they had to do (I knew this because we talked it through). Helping them overcome writing problems was a big problem for the faculty, especially if we took seriously our gate-keeping responsibilities.

What did I do?

The white students usually had the skills needed to carry them through the class. But some didn’t. I particularly remember two: one who made it and one who failed to make it.

Jerry swore he couldn’t write, and what’s more, he couldn’t spell. I told him what I told them all: “Write it wrong and I’ll help you rewrite it. I’ll even help with the spelling.” When he finally, after stalling for weeks, gave me his first paper, it was wonderful!  I didn’t have to reach for a teacherly supportive comment, I just applauded because I loved the thinking and the writing in his paper. It turned out that Jerry’s spelling was worse than anyone’s, and he’d had such trouble about spelling all through school that he’d simply decided he couldn’t write. He flew through the course once we decided that the spelling could be corrected last, on the word processor, and that everything else worked!

Flo had beautiful things to say. The mother of young adults, she had recently been left by her husband (a frequent story in a college which has a large number of re-entry women from their late 30’s to their sixties) and was scrambling to make ends meet. She came to class and participated poetically, but didn’t write. She gave her two presentations on schedule, and they fascinated and interested the other students in the class. Once she showed me a promising beginning to a paper, but then she disappeared. She returned to class on the last day, bearing T-shirts for us all, made by her son, which said “I got my experience assessed at Pacific Oaks”. I never got clear why Flo didn’t finish the work. It was clear she liked the class and wanted the credit, but she just didn’t overcome the problem.

Some School Experiences Cripple

Most of the others who struggled with ABLE were Latinas. Maria, Norma, Graciela and Luz had different stories, but the same experience, or so it seemed to me. They had grown up in the LA basin, and were now in leadership positions in child care or Head Start or community college because they were competent and bilingual and responsible. But they couldn’t write in English.  Couldn’t.

I had become bilingual — adding Spanish — in my 40s. I would have hated to write these papers in Spanish, and I told them so. But my experience with language has never involved shame, and theirs had, and that made, I think, all the difference. They went to school during the period when children were punished for speaking Spanish not only in class, but even on their own time — at lunch and at recess. So, student by student, the time came when we had to fight the resolve she had made as a child, never to be complicit with the cruel teachers by writing this awful language.

It wasn’t easy. I cried with Luz as she recalled being separated from her friends and isolated in the school for forgetting, being natural, speaking the language of her loved ones. I cried with Norma over papers in grades 2-6 covered with red ink. The shame of it, for a little girl whose family wanted her to do well in school. I cried with Graciela over the mean words the teachers used to stop her from saying what she had to say in the only ways she could say it. And I cried with Grandma Maria because not only had she experienced this kind of awful disrespect and tearing down of her self-esteem, but she had seen the same thing done to her own children!

Student by student, after we cried, we worked. Draft after draft ÷ our deal was that I’d rewrite anything she wrote, until it was good quality. I was a strong advocate of using a word processor· it meant we could keep all the good stuff and just clear out errors. I’m not sure what we would have done without the ease of the delete key and the capacity to insert material.

The Secret, Revealed

This, I told my dean, was my secret: One must cry with the student if she is to begin to write. And then one must have the patience and editorial capacity to rewrite repeatedly with the student, showing her what needs to be changed, and explaining why. Imagine my horror to find, a decade later, that voters in my state, California, have passed a law which requires children to leave a bilingual setting after a year and says, among other things, that speaking Spanish to a Spanish-speaking child can cause a teacher to be punished.

This law brings shame back, big time, to children whose first language isn’t English. Clearly, people who understand how crippling language shame is must not allow such a law to be implemented!

In the names of Maria, Luz, Graciela and Norma, in remembrance of all those tears, I beg, I beseech, I demand that this cruelty, isolation, red ink, mean words, and disrespect—must stop!

Teaching African-American Children

The question of how the child will be seen, who enters school speaking other than standard English, was the center of the Ebonics controversy in the winter of 1996. A very fine book, The Real Ebonics Debate, [Perry, T & Delpit, L. Beacon Press, 1998] has been written about this subject.

Being seen as speaking an inferior language may well keep African-American children from wanting “white music”, “white talk” or anything else “white” for fear they will be distanced from their own community. They may throw out the European cultural riches with the racist bathwater.

So, to the extent that legitimizing Ebonics (and offering bilingual programs) causes teachers to validate what the children bring with them, the self-esteem of the children will be supported.

The Culture of Children and Teachers in School

1.  Quality of Bilingual Programs Varies

The opponents of bilingual education who put the awful referendum on the ballot say bilingual programs don’t work. To the extent that school doesn’t work (why are so many children using controlled substances, not reading, attracted to violence in its many forms) neither does bilingual education. But when it is supported, it works, and it is the only route we know thus far for immigrant children to come to Standard English with their self-image intact.

Like many other teachers, I have taught in a program (not bilingual) which had sufficient funding and resources at the beginning, but as it succeeded, both funds and resources were cut, so that, after a while, teachers were trying to accomplish the same amount with more children and fewer materials and were found to be lacking. It reminds me of what G.K. Chesterton said, (this has been paraphrased):

It has been agreed that every man shall have a cow.
We give him half a cow, to be getting on with.
He doesn’t know what to do with half a cow, and leaves it lying about.
This proves he didn’t really want or need a cow in the first place.
We take it away from him.

Bilingual education has a mixed report, but that is precisely because teachers and children have often been asked to get milk from half a cow. Where the programs have been properly funded, and the numbers have been reasonable, children and teachers have succeeded with their tasks.

2. Quality of relationships between people in the program

Many things affect the success of young children in embracing Îschool culture’. The most important is how much respect they experience; for who they are, for what they bring with them from home, as they enter school. Children are ready to learn if they are in settings that feel safe to them, and they resist the lessons given by people who undermine their security

Teachers have learned, over the years, that to cover children’s written work with red marks makes them decide to abandon writing. Good teachers respond to the ideas as they are written, and help children learn to self-critique, as writers must. Models for Standard English are all around us, on radio and television and in school. Children often abandon their parents’ code for a standard one, after a period of adjustment. More often, they add the Standard English code to the one they learned as babies.

If they can learn to read English, they will read Standard English. None of us reads language which reflects our speech precisely: the codes are different, and we can accept that, and learn another code when we see the need for it. Standard written English is not standard spoken English.

So it is necessary, before introducing hard work in a new language, that children be accepted and understood as they speak their home language. During these first years the teacher will often model Standard English without requiring much (perhaps asking them to repeat a few words) from the children in return, explaining to them that later they will learn this new language. After they have been accepted and have learned to read a little, the second language, Standard English, can be introduced. Now there can be exercises and challenges and immersions of different lengths…a story can be read and phrases played with, patterns for questions can be developed; all the good exercises we have learned in teaching reading can be taught, and learned.

Colonizing minds
Overrunning the languages of indiginous people:

Linguistic oppression of indigenous peoples usually takes a different form. I wrote about this in my book about Sylvia Ashton-Warner [ Pay Attention to the Children: Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Sylvia Ashton-Warner ] who worked with Maori children in New Zealand/Aotearoa, and hear about it repeatedly in the US. At the Suquamish Museum, on their reservation in Washington, we find oral history about the Indian Boarding Schools.

Lawrence Webster

They took you off to school, and while you got white man education there you lost what you could have learned at home. I don’t begrudge the going to school, but I almost lost the Indian language, to boot. I lost that much time away from home with those long winter evenings when they used to tell us the stories and one thing and another.

…You take any nationality there is, take them away from home, put Îem with a different group altogether, stay there for quite a number of years, he’s going to forge a lot that he learned at home. And I don’t care who it is, he’s going to forget some things altogether. And if he’s taken away very young from that home, he’ll lost it just that much faster.

And Ethel Sam

I wouldn’t even notice I’d say something in Indian, and then the teacher’d come along with his ruler and hit me on the hand, ÎYou talk English’….The teachers used to scold us. Sometimes they’d think that we’re talking about Îem.

And Clara Jones

We stayed there for three years. We were just kids, you know. They [parents] said we had to go or else they would go to jail. That’s what they used to tell us. And we would cry, ÎWe don’t want to go back, we don’t want to leave home.’ They would tell us you will have to go or else we go to jail. There were some around two, three, four, five years old. They had these long rooms for our girls and there was sometimes forty to fifty beds in one room.

The voices we hear above are from the people once led by Chief Seattle. Their injuries as children are palpable, and we do well to remember what they have told us.

Let’s do it right

Since we know from experience and brain research that second language acquisition is most efficiently accomplished in childhood, we don’t want to wait too long, but since we want the child to welcome the second language and not to feel as the Suquamish people quoted above, I’d suggest that second or third grade is early enough for formal work in this area (the teacher will have been modeling Standard English all along), and that teachers need to be thoroughly trained never to explain that Standard English is right and Ebonics or Spanish or Suquamish is wrong, but that Standard English is the language of the business world, and is useful and should be part of what we know.

There is some hard science here, to support my contention. Ron Lally reports, in discussing the new brain science research, that the younger a child takes on a language the easier it is to learn. This supports our intuitive and experiential knowledge. He further reports that a two-year-old in the US from a Chinese- or Spanish-only home will learn English very quickly indeed, and very well, at the cost of his/her first language. (This isn’t the case where the home and school are bilingual.) This terrible cost is also related to what we know about the brain and the values of the community . . . the child recognizes the cultural disposition toward English and discards the first language. So this kind of immersion disables the child from communication with those in the home, and extinguishes any possibility of a gentle bridge back and forth between two cultures. Eugene Garcia’s research tells us that the child’s home language is linked with identity formation and that a solid grounding in a first language makes it easier, not harder, for the child to learn a second language.

If Americans were more accustomed to multilinguality the current discussion would seem silly… of course children can learn to speak in different ways in different settings. There should be no question of replacing one language with another. In many countries children learn two and three languages from birth. Any four-year-old knows that you can do some things at home, others at child care, and yet others at Grandma’s. My own daughter, adopted into a white family and herself black, learned
Ebonics at age eight or so, when she wanted to talk like the other black kids did. She switched codes appropriately, and still does, twenty-plus years later. All of us who are bilingual can switch to the language appropriate to the context, and it is fun to do so if neither code is derided or disvalued.

People can’t -and shouldn’t- accept being marginalized because we speak like our parents. When I taught children from African-American homes in the Harlem and Hunters Point, I learned that they respond openly and with excitement to learning when they are seen as valuable, well-functioning people.

I am convinced that we should utilize the children’s own language as much as we can, through grade 3, (building upon what they bring with them) work with them in both languages for another three years, and then ask them to use “school language” most of the time at school. There will, of course, be children for whom no teacher who speaks their language will be available, but this should be the exception, not the rule, and it is unconscionable where there are large population groups in an area. School boards who want successful graduates will want to hire people who can teach young children without taking away the children’s self-esteem.

Immigrant children, who arrive in the US older and with some school experience behind them in the home country, probably can proceed at a somewhat faster pace through these same stages, because they know themselves to be successful at school, and have learned to read in their language of origin. I believe that this can compensate for the ease with which very young children learn languages. In any event, the learning of language must not be an onerous duty, under the clock, but an expansion of intelligence and the ability to communicate.

Following a responsible course of action, we would honor the children as coming from one legitimate place, and heading for another.

Finally, the teacher’s role must be to support the child as a learning, integrated being, whose first language and second one both are strong and convey the meanings the child wishes to communicate. The current attempt in California to pretend that this important task can be accomplished in a year is foolhardy and immoral, denying the realities of children, teachers and languages.

In the name of diversity, and in the best interests of the children, we must learn to greet them at the school’s door with respect, and never, ever withdraw that respect. Given this respect, they will learn and learn, and they will astonish us with their wisdom.

Further reading:

Asante, M.K. African Elements in African American English. In J. Holloway, ed., Africanisms in American Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Baldwin, J. “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Copyright 1979 by The New York Times Company.

Bilingual Education Handbook: Designing Instruction for LEP Students. 1990. Sacramento: California Department of Education, Bilingual Education Office.

Cazden, C.B. “Effective Instructional Practices in Bilingual Education.” Paper prepared for the National Institute of Education. 1984.

Cazden, C.B. Classroom Discourse. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 1988.

Christian, D. and Mahrer, C. 1992. Two-Way Bilingual Programs in the United States: 1991-1992. Santa Cruz, CA and Washington, DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning.

Christian, D. and Mahrer, C. 1993. Two-Way Bilingual Programs in the United States: 1992-1993 Supplement, Santa Cruz, CA and Washington, DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning.

Cummins, J. 1989. Empowering Minority Students. Sacramento: California Association for Bilingual Education.

Cunningham, P.M. Teachers’ Correction Responses to Black-Dialect Miscues Which are Nonmeaning-Changing. Reading Research Quarterly, 1976-1977, 12.

Cummins, J. “Wanted: A Theoretical Framework for Relating Language Proficiency to Academic Achievement among Bilingual Students.” In C. Rivera, ed., Language Proficiency and Academic Achievement. Clevedon, England, Multilingual Matters.

Delpit, L. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. NY: New Press, 1995.

Gates, H.L., Jr. Bearing Witness. In HL Gates, Jr., ed., Selections of African-American Autobiography in the Twentieth Century. NY: Pantheon, 1991.

Hakuta, K. Mirror of Language. NY Basic Books. 1985.

Kozol, J. Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. NY: Crown. 1991.

Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Pergamon Press.

_____. 1982. Fundamentals of Language Education. Torrance: Laredo Publishing Company.

Lessow-Hurley, J. 1990. Foundations of Dual Language Instruction. New York: Longman.

Salamone, R. Equal Education under Law. NY: St. Martin’s Press. 1986.

Willig, A. “Meta-Analysis of Studies on Bilingual Education.” Review of Educational Research Vol 55 No 3 (1985).

Wink, J. Immersion: Everyone Can Win!

Wink, J. Transformation: One School-One Answer

Talking with Threes and Fours About Hurricanes
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Talking with Threes and Fours About Hurricanes

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, MA

September 10, 2004

The children have been through a lot. They have seen things they don’t understand. They’ll need to play out their experiences and build and destroy buildings and they will suddenly remember and be afraid.

What are good ways to help them work this issue through in your group setting?

1. Let them talk. Have times when children (perhaps in a small group of three or four) can talk about what happened to them in the hurricane. Record this on a cassette tape recorder, if you have one. Start by saying “I know the hurricane was a scary time for all of us.  We can talk about what happened, and that will help us feel better.” Then choose your most verbal child, and say, “Janie, would you tell what happened to you and your family?”

After Janie finishes, you should point out “your grownups took good care of you when you ………” (telling back some salient points of her story. And ask for another story. Again, after that story is done, underline the work of the adults, which included going to safety and taking good care of the children.

Try to get each child to tell his or her story, and listen to the tapes again that evening. You want to listen for what was particularly scary for each one, and to make note of that, so your storytelling  and creative suggestions will help the children to face and overcome their fears (after all, they have survived and returned to some sort of normalcy!)

The day of your discussion and every day, remind children that they can paint the hurricane, that they can build the hurricane in blocks, that they can draw the hurricane. Read Toni Gross’ and my article, Painting a Tragedy for more about the role of the arts in helping young children process a major painful event.

Be sure the children hear you say, often, that you and the other grownups at school/childcare/playgroup/ can take good care of them if any problem comes. And that their parents did, and they will, and the children only have to help by listening to their grownups … getting to safety is an adult task.

Your attitude of serious respect for their fears and painful memories will matter a lot. And it will help.

Discussing News with Three- to Seven-Year-Olds
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Discussing the News with Three to Seven Year Olds

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

[Click HERE for a PDF version]

After any important event occurs, the TV repetition makes sure the children will know something is going on that captures the attention of everyone. It is important, I think, that teachers and parents of young children allow the children time to express what is on their minds. (Unfortunately, some people think that the children, in their innocence, will not know about these world events. Considering this problem over the past 20 or more years, I haven’t found that to be the case.)

The following recommendations are based on what I have done with children 3 and up and would do this week about the current bombing. (Please, if you are dealing with younger children, modify what I have written in ways you will know better than I do, perhaps just being physically warmer, rocking more, making sure they know you are taking good care of them.)

It is hard for most of us to move toward an awful subject like the bombing in Boston or the shooting in Connecticut, or death, or divorce, or earthquake or flood or… but the children need someone to help them unpack their thinking and their fears, and to help them know what the emergency plan, so to speak, is for them. (And always, it is, “Your grownups at home and your grownups at school know how to take care of you.” I believe that young children never can hear this too much.)

In circle, if I had one, or with small groups repeatedly, until I got to everyone, I’d ask a provocative question, such as, “Did anyone hear anything about an explosion?” and I’d leave rather a long silence. (Start silently counting and don’t even think of saying anything before, say, 75.) Probably one child or more will have a great deal to say. Let each of the children speak at length. (If you have children who talk long, and most/all want to speak, maybe break into two groups; if you teach with a capable partner have two groups so each child will wait less.) I like to make a chart as the children are telling their concerns. Sammy said his mom says there was a bad guy; Rosie said bombing is scary; etc., and the two groups can share their charts, or tell each other what was said later, or tomorrow.

Resist the temptation to correct errors as the children explain what they think is going on.

Validate what they are feeling: “A lot of people feel that way.”

Keep notes, and take a turn for yourself at the end…or at a later time that day, if the children are wiggly and need to do something else. You will want to be heard. (If postponing my turn, I’d say”I also have some things to say about the bombings, but I’m going to do it after we’ve been outdoors and played.”) When it’s your turn, tell them what you think is going on…don’t turn attention to their errors, but tell a version you think is accurate.

“Somebody was angry and he did this very scary thing, a thing that was supposed to scare the rest of us. And we are shocked and scared, but we mustn’t stay that way. We need to think about what we know:

We know that children get taken care of by their grownups at home and at school.

We know that we will keep you safe.

We know that people can sit down and talk about troubles, and that’s always better than hitting or shooting or bombing.

Do pay attention to their emotions, as stated and as you perceived them, and tell them that you know people are scared, etc., but the grownups will do what has to be done to make things better. If you have learned specifics, such as “My daddy says children in Connecticut are getting shot. I don’t want to be shot.” then talk about: “Your parents are doing everything they can to keep you safe, Would you like me to write down how you feel, and send that to the President or maybe your grownups at home?” You can scribe a letter for this child, and any other, saying what they feel, and sending to the proper recipient.

Or suggest to the child, “You could make a picture about the explosion. You could show the scary stuff, or you could show how you want it to be, instead.” Your adult job, as I’ve described it here, is to reassure the child, provided your reassurance is true, that (in the present situation, and as far as you can see) s/he is safe and will be cared for. If the children are in danger, you must point out that all the adults (including you) are responsible not only for taking care of the danger, but for taking care of the children, and will do their very best.

Please consider sending home a letter telling the parents what you are doing. Please note that I’m taking the side of the children. They must not be left to feel that they are at risk; they must not be left to feel confused at what is going on; and they must learn that people express our concern for others in awful positions, putting our strong feelings into considered, appropriate action.

I don’t know how I would advise a family who had someone they loved die in any of the bombings, and that makes me very sad, indeed. When anyone is made powerless, we all suffer. 4/16/13

The following paragraphs came from another statement, circulated by Judith A. Myers-Walls, Extension Specialist, Purdue University, after the Columbine shootings. I think it’s very wise.

Help children use creative outlets like art and music to express their feelings. Children may not be comfortable or skilled with words, especially in relation to difficult situations. Using art, puppets, music, or books might help children open up about their reactions. They may want to draw pictures and then destroy them, or they could want to display them or send them to someone else. Be flexible and listen.

Support children’s concern for people they do not know. Children often are afraid not only for themselves, but also for people they do not even know. They learn that many people are getting hurt or are experiencing pain in some way. They worry about those people and their well being. In some cases they might feel less secure or cared for themselves if they see that others are hurting. It is heartwarming and satisfying to observe this level of caring in children. Explore ways to help others and ease the pain.

Look for feelings beyond fear. After reassuring kids, don’t stop there. Studies have shown that children also may feel sad or angry. Let them express that full range of emotions. Support the development of caring and empathy. Be careful not to encourage the kind of response given by one child: “I don’t care if there’s a war, as long as it doesn’t affect me and my family.”

Please feel free to circulate this posting (see below). I’d appreciate your letting me know if you do.

Also see, Teach through tragedy

A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curriculum: Playing the Dream
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A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curriculum: Playing the Dream

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, As it appeared in Young Children, January, 1988

Including an audio clip of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream“, and a clip from the speech, “Promised Land“.

What do 4-year-olds and other young children need to learn to help them experience Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of living with other people in peace and mutual respect?  Learning to recognize Dr. King’s photograph and to recite a few key facts about him is fine, but what did this man stand for; what is it he would really  want children to know about him’?

Dr. King is one of the great heroes of our time and his work can be authentically interpreted to young children to fire their imaginations.

Three such interpretations are developed here:

1.  Children find their voices and powers in the peaceable resolution of everyday conflicts.

2. Each child learns to take center stage and gain self-esteem as Child of the Day.

3. By acting out the Montgomery bus boycott, children learn how people change their world.

Invoke Dr. King when children tangle 

We want to invoke Dr. King and his thinking whenever children tangle with each other because Dr. King’s main message to the people of this planet was that we need to live respectfully and peaceably together.

In September and October, we talk with the children frequently about who Dr. King was and his belief that all people should get along with each other fairly.

What do children mean when they say, “I won’t be your friend”? 

Ruben, sounding tough and mean, tells Luisa, “I’m not gonna be your friend.” He uses this phrase experimentally, not so much to hurt as to get rid of her or to make her yield a toy. It is a very effective tactic. Luisa bursts into tears. The teacher says, “Ruben, please look at Luisa’s face. Did you want to make her cry?” Ruben thinks about this and then looks concerned. Once made to see, children are too honest to deny the pain they have caused and they feel regret. Taking our cue from Dr. King, we make sure that the aggressor looks at the pain of the victim. If soldiers couldn’t drop bombs from airplanes but had to look their victims in the eye, they might reconsider their orders to kill.

Later in the year, we can call on Dr. King when the exclusive language crops up. When Cynthia says, “Mary says she won’t be my friend,” we can ask, “What would Dr. King say about that?” Thus bolstered by Dr. King, Cynthia can go back to Mary and say to her, “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends.”

Our teaching is validated when, in January, we see one child rush to comfort another who falls down, or overhear one child try to exclude another and the second child invoke Dr. King.

Good teachers, who are careful not to tell children how they feel, may suspect a contradiction. Having children tell each other “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends,” seems to imply that Dr. King was telling them how to feel,  not how to behave.

What children really mean when they say “I’m not gonna be your friend” is “Go away” or “Not now” or, at worst, “I have real power over you!” We talk about friends, too, with Dr. King as an authority. Eventually we will teach children more specific yet polite ways to get rid of somebody: “I’ll play with you in a little while, but I’m busy right now” or “There are only enough blocks for two of us. Please wait for your turn.” Meanwhile, saying “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends” is a specific antidote to the exclusive phrase “I don’t want to be your friend” and is the shorthand for “Dr. King wanted you to treat every individual fairly, with respect, and never to tell them they are less than valuable—whether you like them or not.”

Handle conflict peacefully 

A Head Start teacher raised a problem. When Francis wanted to slide down the slide and Kevin wanted to go up, they kept crashing into each other. There was a ladder on the slide but Kevin wanted to go up the down side—he loved to scramble up the slippery slope. Although the slide was wide enough to take two children at once, he wasn’t willing to leave one side for Francis. Kevin showed how big and powerful and glib he was by picking on Francis, who was less adept at physical and verbal activities.

Over the long haul we want to bring out Kevin’s considerateness and Francis’s assertiveness. The program must fill Kevin’s need to be important, to be acknowledged, and to be a leader; and must give Francis his share of attention and being first. We follow Dr. King’s teaching when we help children to be useful to their playmates and to become confident, by intervening in actual incidents involving friction between children.

Right now, we have two boys about to collide on a slide. How can we help them solve their conflict in a nonviolent way?

In a workshop someone suggested that Kevin might not understand the rules, that he might come from a home where rules weren’t consistently enforced and thus have no clear sense of the permanence of a rule. In September this is a legitimate concern, and we must be patient and consistent until the child learns how our program differs from home. But 4s take rules as given, not as negotiable or changeable. The rule comes like a tomato. It won’t turn into a carrot. Kids know there are things you can do at home that you can’t do at Grandma’s house, and there are things you can do at Head Start that you can’t do either at home or at Grandma’s. By May, Kevin knows how the slide is supposed to be used. He’s making a power statement, and he’s working on his own tough image while the teacher is concerned about poor little Francis sitting passively at the top of the slide.

One of Dr. King’s principles was that being a bully isn’t good for one’s self-esteem. Dr. King was willing to face the mainstream of a violent country without returning its violence because he believed that bullies don’t like to see themselves as bullies. Often his strategy worked. Sometimes it was enormously costly.

The teacher of Kevin and Francis valued kindness and children’s exploration of their environment. She believed in using just enough external control to keep the children physically and emotionally safe. Had she cared more for control and order than for developing children, she would have simply removed Kevin from the slide without explanation or interest in his motives.

Be sure that the aggressor looks at the pain of the victim. 

Well-meaning but unskilled adults walk into that situation and say, ‘Kevin, you don’t want to go up the down side.” On reflection, we know that he does want to, that’s why he does it. Realizing this, we might say “Kevin, I see that you would like to go up the down side of the slide but right now Francis would like to slide down. Wait till he’s done and then you can have your turn.” That would be fine if Kevin were not already at the top of the slide by the time this long speech is finished. Fours are very fast, and Kevin wants to be fastest of all. We could catch hold of his foot, saying: “I don’t want you to go up right now.” By speaking this way we acknowledge the power we’re using. To change children’s behavior, get their attention and simply state: “I don’t want you to do that.” Get a hand on the child—not a mean hand, simply a firm grip—to make him stay put while you discuss the problem.

This teacher had several goals: 

“I wanted to let Francis slide down safely. He can’t climb up yet. but it was a lot of work for him to learn to go down, so I’m trying to allow him to do that. On the other hand, I wanted to let Kevin climb up the slide. It’s exercise, it’s an accomplishment, and he’s good at it. I just don’t want to let them hump into each other?”

Our workshop decided most of this teacher’s goals would be met if she said: “Kevin, hold it. Just wait. Francis, you can come on down now.” And after Francis reached the ground, “Okay, Kevin, up you go. In this way, everybody would get a turn.

However, Francis hasn’t said what he feels. We’ve been reading his mind, we’ve been reading Kevin’s mind, and we are controlling the situation. if we follow Dr. King’s teaching our task becomes helping these children practice skills that lead to cooperation, self-esteem, and speaking up for themselves.

First, stop Kevin. Then ask Francis, “What do you want to do?” If Francis doesn’t speak up: “You look like you want to slide down. Do you want to slide down?” If he nods, say to him, “Tell Kevin ‘I want to slide down.'” Get him to the point where he has said what he wants in his own voice. After Francis has spoken, ask Kevin, “Anything wrong with Francis sliding down’?” and let him graciously give Francis his chance. If Kevin’s having an anxiety fit, point out, “As soon as he’s down, you can go up.” Meanwhile, keep a hand on him. He knows you can forbid him or carry him away from the slide; you have what appears to him to be infinite power. Allowing him to participate in this kind of decision helps him experience his own appropriate strength. Thus Kevin discovers the joy of being helpful, which is such a boost to self-esteem that being faster or able to do more pales by comparison.

This is the kind of empowerment that the Civil Rights Movement achieved. If you feel the need to moralize to Kevin and Francis, you can say, See, this way you have what you want, and both of you feel good!”

Develop each person’s self-esteem: A lesson from Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A child can’t learn what Dr. King had to teach unless the child also learns pride and self-love. Becoming fair-minded takes a strength that is only available to people who know their own worth. Building children’s self-esteem is done or not done or undone all the time and in every interaction. Implementing a Child of the Day program gives a particular focus to the goal of letting each child experience individual recognition and leadership. In a group of 20, each child can have this special day once a month.

Some teachers have a fancy apron or cape or tool belt for the Child of the Day to wear and have several important tasks for that child to accomplish. In Sandy Farmer’s class, the Child of the Day announces cleanup by sounding a triangle and softly telling one child after another, “It’s time to clean up.” The child also puts toothpaste on individual pieces of waxed paper to be carried to the washroom. The Child of the Day selects the first song, is first to go outdoors, goes to the kitchen for bowls of second helpings, and gets first choice of activities.

Another activity for the Child of the Day can be what teacher Kate Rosen calls giving the message. When the children need to be reminded of their responsibility in a big school, as upon returning to the classroom from outdoors, the Child of the Day goes to the front of the group and says: “Please go indoors quietly, hang up your coats, and sit on the rug.” This idea of giving the message in any situation that recurs regularly spares children the tedium of hearing your voice endlessly repeat directions.

Another distinction for the Child of the Day is to receive a bouquet of friends. At circle time, ask if anyone wants to say something nice about the Child of the Day. Write each contribution on a flower cut from paper as children dictate. Of course, no child should be compelled to contribute a bouquet statement and all bouquet statements must be positive. You will find yourself writing sentiments like these: Fay says “I like Rosemary’s hugs.” Fern says “I like to play house with Rosemary.” Yoko says “I like to hammer with Rosemary.” Stan says  Rosemary has pretty eyes.” Neil says “I like to ride bikes with Rosemary.” Rosemary can then paste the flowers on a sheet of paper and put them in a book of nice things she has made or received.

Show children how Martin Luther King worked 

Teaching facts is a less effective educational method than is enabling children to experience, discover, think, and conclude, as early childhood educators well know. We need to consider this when helping young children understand why Dr. King is important. To make his work vivid to them, take them back to “Jim Crow” Montgomery.

The joy of being helpful is such a boost to self-esteem that being faster or able to do more pales by comparison.

Play Montgomery bus boycott 

When you cast the play, be sure to avoid typecasting. Ask children whether they want to be Black or White, giving each a black or white piece of paper to help everyone remember. Feel free to cast girls as Dr. King and boys as Mrs. Parks. Because the play will be repeated many times, everyone who wants to play a particular character will eventually get to play it.

You will need one chair for each child in the group except the extra White passenger, two dolls (one black and one white), two dimes, a place designated for a pay telephone and one for a jail, maybe a steering wheel for the bus, and one of the books from the Bibliography picturing Rosa Parks.

Tell the story of Rosa Parks. 

Gather the children around you. Show the picture of Rosa Parks.  Begin:

I want to tell you a true story about this woman. Her name is Mrs. Rosa Parks, and this story happened a long time ago, before you were born, before your mommy and daddy were born. Mrs. Parks lived in a place called Montgomery where there was a very bad rule. The rule said that people with dark skins, like this doll, had to do different things than people with light skins, like this doll. There were rules about where you could sit on the bus and where you couldn’t sit, where you could eat and where you couldn’t eat, where you could shop and where you couldn’t shop. There were rules about where you could go to the toilet and where you couldn’t go to the toilet, where you could get a drink of water and where you couldn’t get a drink of water, where you could go to school and where you couldn’t go to school, where you could get an ice cream cone and where you couldn’t. And all the rules said people with dark skin—Black people—got the worst places and people with light skin—White people had to be in the best places.

Mrs. Parks was a Black woman who worked sewing—that’s called a seamstress. She worked very hard and got very tired. One day she was riding the bus home from work and she was sitting in the first row of the section at the back of the bus where Black people had to sit. Now we need to make a bus so we can play this story, and then I’ll tell you the rest of it.

Organize the play.  Choose a driver; a Mrs. Parks, a Dr. King, and a police officer. Choose one “extra” White passenger to displace Mrs. Parks. Fill all the seats in the back with Black passengers and all the seats in the front with White passengers. Put the White driver in the driver’s seat. Leave no empty seats. Mrs. Parks sits in the first row of the Black section. Dr. King and the police officer need to wait offstage to get telephone calls.

The play begins.  Continue to tell the story. Coach each actor in what to say next, expecting children to use their own words. The “extra” White passenger enters the full bus. Now there are too many people riding the bus and so there aren’t enough seats. Make sure the children understand this.
“The bus driver tells Mrs. Parks that she has to give up her seat and go to the back and stand.”

Tell the driver to say that now. Repeat what the driver is to say. Encourage the child to repeat, using her own words, and to pretend to be bossy.
“Mrs. Parks is tired and says, ‘I’m too tired.'” Again, encourage the child to repeat your words and to look tired.

Use this approach throughout the play, until children begin to anticipate your words. This should start happening by the fourth or fifth repetition. The children may interrupt and ask, “Why does she have to stand?”

I, as the teacher, answer,
“Because of that awful rule about Black people being in one place and White people being in another, and the Whites getting the best place and the Blacks getting the worst.” Continue telling the story.

The bus driver tells Mrs. Parks, “Go to the back of the bus. It’s the law.” Mrs. Parks replies, “It’s a bad law.” So the bus driver takes a dime out of a pocket (that’s what it cost back then to use a pay telephone) and goes to the telephone and calls the police, saying, “Rosa Parks won’t go to the back of the bus. Please come and arrest her.”

The police come to take Mrs. Parks away to jail. They say, “You’re breaking the law.” She answers, “But I was here first. I’m tired and I need to stay sitting.” The officer tells her, “You can be tired in jail,” and takes her there.

When Mrs. Parks got to jail she was allowed to make a phone call. The city she lived in was called Montgomery, and the Black people there had an organization to help each other called the Montgomery Improvement Association. Mrs. Parks called her friends at the Montgomery Improvement Association, and told them what had happened. “I didn’t go to the back of the bus because I was tired. They sent for the police and brought me to jail.” The people at the Montgomery Improvement Association got Mrs. Parks out of jail and called everybody to come to a meeting. The leader at the meeting was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now change by 90 degrees the direction of the chairs that make up the bus. “We are now at a community meeting.” Begin the meeting, as happened in the Civil Rights Movement, with a song. You might try,

 If you miss me at the back of the bus
You can’t find me back there
Come on over to the front of the bus
I’ll be riding up there.

Help the children pretend to be Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and all the other people at the meeting trying to figure out what to do. Elicit nonviolent suggestions from the children.

Ask the children to discuss what is happening with Mrs. Parks. Is it fair? Consider both violent and peaceable alternatives, and how things might turn out with each. Ask the children, “What should we do?”

Tell them that at the meeting the people talked about what to do. Dr. King said, “We need to help Mrs. Parks, and we need to make the buses fair.”

Now the children should talk about ways to get the buses to be fair. Dr. King should help the group decide not to use ways that will just get them hurt, like throwing stones or shooting people. He should help them decide to boycott the buses until people can sit where they like and some Black bus drivers are hired.

The Black people in Montgomery thought Dr. King was right when he said, “It’s not fair that Mrs. Parks got pushed to the back of the bus. We have to make the buses fair.” They decided to boycott the buses. That means they decided, “We won’t ride the buses until we can sit where we like.” (Let each child repeat this sentence and then all say it in unison.)

They had meetings and they told the mayor and the bus company that they just wouldn’t ride until two things happened: The people would be able to sit where they liked, and some of the bus drivers would have to be Black. The bus company lost a lot of money because 50,000 Black people walked and car-pooled for one whole year! Fifty thousand people is more than I have ever seen in one place, more than a football crowd, more than a circus, even more than a parade! They walked to work for a year. That’s as long as from your birthday to your next birthday.

After a long time they won. Nowadays, when you go to Montgomery, you will see Black and White people sitting together in the buses, eating together in the restaurants, drinking from the same water fountain, going to school together, buying ice cream at the same place, and using the same bathrooms. Many people, White and Black, did lots of work to make that happen. If we think that something isn’t fair and we work together to change it, we can change it and change the world.

You can do this play often, letting the children choose whether or not they want to join in and, over time, giving everyone who participates a chance to be Dr. King and Mrs. Parks regardless of gender or color. Children love repetition because knowing what comes next makes them feel competent. Each time children repeat the play, they will  understand it better. You can add more information from time to time.

When Dr. King began his work he helped a seamstress get a seat on a bus. lust before he died he was helping the garbage collectors in Memphis get better pay for their work. He was interested in ordinary people with ordinary jobs. He wasn’t interested in fancy stuff, just fairness.

Dr. King’s work eventually caused the president of the United States to sign a law that changed this awful rule about separating Black and White people. Now we can all sit where we like on the bus.

Dr. King didn’t do all this by himself. He was a leader. People listened to his speeches and were interested in what he had to say. Millions of American people worked together to win fair rules. Dr. King needed everybody’s help to get the job done. Lots of people of all colors helped. Boys and girls, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins, and friends all walked instead of riding buses with bad rules. Sometimes they even had to go to jail like Mrs. Parks. Dr. King went to jail many times to show how wrong the bad rules were.

Discuss the death of Martin Luther King 

After we have lived with Dr. King for many months of the school year, repeatedly invoking him when episodes of injustice are occurring in our classroom, quoting him in response to “I don’t want to be your friend,” playing Montgomery bus boycott, and singing songs, we talk about Martin Luther King’s death. We talk about how awful it was. Dr. King said very brave and beautiful things about living and dying. We read this to the children:

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A PORTION OF THIS SPEECH

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

                      — From a speech made April 3, 1968, the night before he was murdered

The children have seen him alive on TV, so how can he be dead? We demystify the concept of videotape, an explanation children need so they can unravel truth from fiction and live from reruns. If you videotape the children early in the year and replay it later, children can conceptualize their own history through seeing the olden days of last month. Now you can explain that, although we can see videotapes of what he did and said when he was alive, Dr. King is really dead. Superman isn’t real and he’s on TV, and Reverend King was real but he’s dead. TV is very confusing. If we use this discussion to help children explore the ways in which death affects people and how we deal with it, emphasizing the fact that our memories of what the person was like live on as ideas inside our heads and ideas we can talk about, we will have helped to prepare children for when they experience death closer at hand.

Color, race, and racism 
 
It’s all very well to act in a play and to get compliments as the Child of the Day, but if you feel you are an inferior color, or a superior one for that matter, your self-esteem will be seriously impaired. Color matters in our culture, and children are going to have a lot to say once you open up the discussion.

You may want to make the children’s silhouettes. Let children choose from black, white, yellow, and red paper. You can use silhouettes to discuss the strange idea that although we call people Black or White, they are neither. As you make and discuss the silhouettes, see if their stark, uniform colors inspire questions from the children about skin color. Discussions that grow out of questions will be particularly fruitful. Silhouettes make attractive room decorations and serve as good gifts to families.

We need to let children talk about race without condemning what is on their minds. Some children will make racist comments because they have heard them at home. If we can talk about color as interesting, even though some people have terrible problems with it then children will have plenty to say. Our own racism and our insecurity about it may make it hard for us to listen to this type of discussion.

If you were raised prejudiced, as most people were, it is especially valuable to tell children,

“When I was a little girl people told me that (Blacks, Indians, rich people, Latins, Hispanics, poor people, Asians, Irish people, deaf people, Russians, Italians, people in wheelchairs, Jews, Whites) weren’t as good as we were, but I’ve decided that I want to be friends with everybody I choose. I’ve changed a lot. You too can decide how you want to feel about people who seem different from you.”

Teaching multiracial material is risking treading on people’s prejudices, but… 

If, like Dr. King, children are to make a difference in the world, they must be able to decide for themselves. You can discuss all sorts of differences with children. Is it okay to like a girl if you’re a boy? Somebody with long hair if you have short hair? Somebody brown if you are pink? Somebody old if you’re young? Somebody tall if you’re short? Can you like babies if you’re big? None of us has the last word on these matters. All of us can think of people who are hard to like and people who we wish would like us more.

One of our responsibilities is to teach children that they can think anything or feel anything without being bad people it’s what they do that counts. I can feel like obliterating my boss. As long as I don’t do it, I am not guilty of murder. We don’t have to like somebody to treat them fairly. Dr. King taught us to treat everybody fairly no matter what we think or feel about them. Many children grow up without learning the difference between having the feeling and acting upon it.

Some children will make racist comments because they’ve heard them at home.

But what about parents’ opinions?

In discussing racism in school we don’t intend to put children in conflict with their parents. For the child who is being taught racial superiority, it’s important to acknowledge that people think differently. We have a right and a responsibility to explain,

It’s true that some people feel their skin color makes them better than other people, but some people feel other ways. You can decide what you feel. If you like
people of all colors, you know you do, and nothing anybody says will make you forget.

Work with others 

To teach this program in isolation entails a high risk of treading on somebody’s prejudices. Some people—parents or other staff members—may think the children are too young to deal with things that trouble adults about the real world, whereas others may think your program is too radical. If you expect difficulty from parents, assemble your support system.

Get support from your director by assuming that of course she supports you, because most publicly funded programs have a mandate to teach multiculture. It is helpful if your director puts on record that it is the policy of your program to teach multicultural education, and parents are not free to reject this element of the program.

People tend to be less defensive if they know what to expect, so discuss your plans with parents in advance of your lessons. At a parents’ meeting present some of the points you will be teaching the children. Explain to parents that there are only two options for our children: to learn to live with all the various people in the world or to be afraid of others and to fight them.

Ask parents about their cultures and the events, heroes, songs, and stories they would like you to include in future celebrations. Any of  these might lead you to activities like those suggested here, based on Dr. King. Dr. Masako Tanaka asks parents to close their eyes to remember their childhoods and seek experiences that made them feel warmly connected to their elders. She uses these recollections as a basis for planning cultural studies for the children.

Consider using a fairly simple globe of the world. Send home to each family a request to know the countries all their people came from. There is a good opportunity to explore the cultures of Native American people while you wait for the specific family background data on Europeans or Asians or Africans. You can then tape signs on the globe: Mary’s great-grandmother on Ireland, Sammy’s grandfather on Russia, and so on. Work with the facts that people who came from one part of the world tend to have yellow-pink skin and brown or yellow hair; people from another part of the world tend to have black or brown skin and very curly hair; people from yet another part of the world tend to have yellow-brown skin and straight black hair.

This activity should give children a sense of why people are different colors and why their family members look the way they do. It should also teach them that one of the most interesting things about this country is that people come from all over the world to live here.

Conclusion

The children you teach will support each other better as a result of the curriculum about Dr. King. Probably children will hurt each other’s feelings less often. When a child gets hurt or a child’s feelings get hurt or a child is unhappy and your loving impulse urges you to run to comfort her or him, you have alternatives. You can encourage another child to help instead. Many of us learned to support our peers in our 20s and 30s and 40s. The children we teach will be much better off when we transfer to them what we’ve learned about networking and helping.

If you include them in the planning, most children’s families will support your work in multiculture. They will want their children to learn these lessons—understanding that without multicultural education we are prey to suspicion and mistrust. As we learn to enjoy each other and our diverse cultures, we approach the ancient universal dream of living together in peace and love on our small planet—a dream so well retold by Dr. King.

note: This is the end of the body of the article.  There were sidebars, bibliographies, and a portrait of the author…you will find them below.

First sidebar:

Let the children hear Dr. King’s eloquent voice

You might play a recording of this part of his famous 1963 speech:

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A PORTION OF THIS SPEECH

“So I say to you my friends, that even though we have faced the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day in the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words interposition and nullification, that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

After the children have heard him, I say to them, “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends.”

Another sidebar

As another musical support to your curriculum about Dr. King, you can teach the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” which has been sung in meetings and church halls and schools in thousands of places around the world by millions of people.

Stand and cross your arms over your chest reaching out to join hands with the others in the circle.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

There are more verses. Black and White together … We are not alone….
You and the children can make more verses still.

It is very important that children understand the essence of the words we’re teaching them in our plays, in our songs, and in other ways. They must understand, for instance, that the song “We Shall Overcome” is not about poor Black people. The Civil Rights Movement was never just about Black people living in poverty.

It was about

  •     the damage of an unequal relationship to both oppressor and oppressed;
  •     the interconnectedness of all people;
  •     courage to do what’s right; and
  •     how to be a good and caring person.

© 1988 NAEYC.  Copyright transferred 1999 to Sydney Clemens. Permission to reprint is required only if this material is to be reprinted in another form such as a book, newsletter, or journal. Request permission from Sydney Gurewitz Clemens in writing. I’m very interested in how this is used, and appreciate being told, even when not required because of copyright. SGC

Bibliography from My 1987 Article on Dr. King
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Bibliography from My 1987 Article

Juvenile Picture Books

(Note: All these books are too old for 4-year-olds. Use the pictures and tell the story. Don’t emphasize the murder, but rather focus upon the work on behalf of the community. (We know other stuff about Lincoln and Kennedy than that they were assassinated.) Leave the books around for children to look at.)

Davidson, M. (1986). 1 have a dream. New York: Scholastic.
Tells King’s story in a Black history context. Good photos.

de Kay, J. T. (1969). Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Random House.
Good photos and a few drawings.

<span “>Hunter, N. (1985). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Bookwright Press.

<span “>Lowery, L. (1987). Martin Luther King Day. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda.
Too much text for one sitting;  could be read a couple of pages at a sitting. Clear language and concepts, more upbeat and constructive than many of the others.

McKissack, P.C. (1986). Our Martin Luther King Book. Elgin, IL: The Child’s Distributed by Children’s Press, 1224 W. Van Buren St., Chicago, IL 60607.
I’d read this one in two or three sittings. It takes a kindergarten class through the i ideas of civil rights and prejudice, includes the music and words to “We Shall Overcome,” has beautiful llustrations—some photos but mostly drawings—and suggests that children make their own book about Dr. King.   This  book  uses the King holiday to help children understand many things, including the ways  we celebrate.  My favorite. Patterson, L. (1977).

Medearis, Angela Shelf, & Anna Rich (Illustrator). Dare to Dream: Coretta Scott King and the Civil Rights Movement  Puffin Reprint edition (January 1999).
As usual, too many words for preschool children. Use the pictures and retell more simply.

Paulsen, G., & Theis, D. (1976). Martin Luther King, The man who climbed the mountain.  Milwaukee, WI: Rain-tree.
More dense than the others; more information on the influence of Gandhi on King. Good photos

Thompson, M. (1983). Martin Luther King, Jr.: A story for children. Family Development  Association, Inc., P.O. Box 485, New York, NY 10009.
Very little text, strong drawings.

Wilson, B. P. lIlus. F. Sowell. (1971). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Putnam.
Beautifully illustrated with pencil drawings. Simply told … but still too long for 3s and 4s.

Books For Adults

Bennett, L. (1968). What manner of man. New York: Pocket Books.

Garrow, D.J. (1986). Bearing the cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern  Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow. Pulitzer Prize biography.

King, C. S. (1969). My life with Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Lewis, D. L. (1979). King, a biography. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Oates, S.B. (1982). Let the trumpet sound: The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
A gifted historian’s notable book.

Schulke, F., & McPhee, P.O. (1986). King remembered. New York: Norton. Washington, J. M. (Ed.) (1986). Testament of hope: The essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
Excerpts of the main writings and speeches. Great resource book.

Resources for Adults on Building Self-Esteem in Children

Bank Street College of Education. (1985). Raising a confident child. New York: Pantheon.

Briggs, D. C. (1970). Your child’s self-esteem. New York: Doubleday.
The best book about why 2-year-olds are like that.

Clemens, S. G. (1984). The Sun’s Not Broken, A Cloud’s Just in the Way: On Child-centered Teaching. Mt. Rainier,MD: Gryphon House.

Faber, A., & Mazush, E. (1982). How to talk so kids will talk and listen so kids will talk. New York: Avon.

Ginott, H. G. (1975). Teacher and child. New York: Avon.

Gonzalez-Mena, I., & Eyer, J. (1980). Infancy and caregiving. Palo Alto, CA:Mayfield.
Self-esteem in babies.

Jersild, A. T. (1955). When teachers face themselves. New York: Teachers College Press,
Columbia University.
To support children we must develop ourselves.

McGinnis, J. B., & McGinnis, K. (1981). Parenting for peace and justice.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

<span “>Pogrebin, L. C. (1980). Growing up free: Raising your child in the 80’s. New York:  Bantam.

Records, Cassettes, and Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Highlander Research and Education Center, Route 3, Box 370, New Market, TN 37820.
Write for a catalog. Includes Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the freedom movement and We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Movement

Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, 449 Auburn St., N. E., Atlanta, GA 30312. Write for a listing of their books, cassettes, and records.

And of Course You Will Want Dr. King’s Own Books

<span “>Stride toward freedom: The Montgomery story. (1958)  New York: Harper.
Strength to love. (1963). New York: Harper & Row.
Why we can’t wait. (1964). New York: Harper & Row.
Trumpet of conscience. (1968). New York: Harper & Row
Washington, I. M. (Ed.). (1986) Testament of hope: The essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row

© 1988 NAEYC.  Copyright transferred 1999 to Sydney Clemens. Permission to reprint is required only if this material is to be reprinted in another form such as a book, newsletter, or journal.

<span “>Request permission from Sydney Gurewitz Clemens in writing, at sydney@eceteacher.org  or at 73 Arbor Street, San Francisco, CA 94131.  I’m very interested in how this is used, and appreciate being told, even when not required because of copyright. SGC

A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curriculum: Playing the Dream
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A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curriculum: Playing the Dream

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, As it appeared in Young Children, January, 1988

Including an audio clip of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream“, and a clip from the speech, “Promised Land“.

What do 4-year-olds and other young children need to learn to help them experience Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of living with other people in peace and mutual respect?  Learning to recognize Dr. King’s photograph and to recite a few key facts about him is fine, but what did this man stand for; what is it he would really  want children to know about him’?

Dr. King is one of the great heroes of our time and his work can be authentically interpreted to young children to fire their imaginations.

Three such interpretations are developed here:

1.  Children find their voices and powers in the peaceable resolution of everyday conflicts.

2. Each child learns to take center stage and gain self-esteem as Child of the Day.

3. By acting out the Montgomery bus boycott, children learn how people change their world.

Invoke Dr. King when children tangle 

We want to invoke Dr. King and his thinking whenever children tangle with each other because Dr. King’s main message to the people of this planet was that we need to live respectfully and peaceably together.

In September and October, we talk with the children frequently about who Dr. King was and his belief that all people should get along with each other fairly.

What do children mean when they say, “I won’t be your friend”? 

Ruben, sounding tough and mean, tells Luisa, “I’m not gonna be your friend.” He uses this phrase experimentally, not so much to hurt as to get rid of her or to make her yield a toy. It is a very effective tactic. Luisa bursts into tears. The teacher says, “Ruben, please look at Luisa’s face. Did you want to make her cry?” Ruben thinks about this and then looks concerned. Once made to see, children are too honest to deny the pain they have caused and they feel regret. Taking our cue from Dr. King, we make sure that the aggressor looks at the pain of the victim. If soldiers couldn’t drop bombs from airplanes but had to look their victims in the eye, they might reconsider their orders to kill.

Later in the year, we can call on Dr. King when the exclusive language crops up. When Cynthia says, “Mary says she won’t be my friend,” we can ask, “What would Dr. King say about that?” Thus bolstered by Dr. King, Cynthia can go back to Mary and say to her, “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends.”

Our teaching is validated when, in January, we see one child rush to comfort another who falls down, or overhear one child try to exclude another and the second child invoke Dr. King.

Good teachers, who are careful not to tell children how they feel, may suspect a contradiction. Having children tell each other “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends,” seems to imply that Dr. King was telling them how to feel,  not how to behave.

What children really mean when they say “I’m not gonna be your friend” is “Go away” or “Not now” or, at worst, “I have real power over you!” We talk about friends, too, with Dr. King as an authority. Eventually we will teach children more specific yet polite ways to get rid of somebody: “I’ll play with you in a little while, but I’m busy right now” or “There are only enough blocks for two of us. Please wait for your turn.” Meanwhile, saying “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends” is a specific antidote to the exclusive phrase “I don’t want to be your friend” and is the shorthand for “Dr. King wanted you to treat every individual fairly, with respect, and never to tell them they are less than valuable—whether you like them or not.”

Handle conflict peacefully 

A Head Start teacher raised a problem. When Francis wanted to slide down the slide and Kevin wanted to go up, they kept crashing into each other. There was a ladder on the slide but Kevin wanted to go up the down side—he loved to scramble up the slippery slope. Although the slide was wide enough to take two children at once, he wasn’t willing to leave one side for Francis. Kevin showed how big and powerful and glib he was by picking on Francis, who was less adept at physical and verbal activities.

Over the long haul we want to bring out Kevin’s considerateness and Francis’s assertiveness. The program must fill Kevin’s need to be important, to be acknowledged, and to be a leader; and must give Francis his share of attention and being first. We follow Dr. King’s teaching when we help children to be useful to their playmates and to become confident, by intervening in actual incidents involving friction between children.

Right now, we have two boys about to collide on a slide. How can we help them solve their conflict in a nonviolent way?

In a workshop someone suggested that Kevin might not understand the rules, that he might come from a home where rules weren’t consistently enforced and thus have no clear sense of the permanence of a rule. In September this is a legitimate concern, and we must be patient and consistent until the child learns how our program differs from home. But 4s take rules as given, not as negotiable or changeable. The rule comes like a tomato. It won’t turn into a carrot. Kids know there are things you can do at home that you can’t do at Grandma’s house, and there are things you can do at Head Start that you can’t do either at home or at Grandma’s. By May, Kevin knows how the slide is supposed to be used. He’s making a power statement, and he’s working on his own tough image while the teacher is concerned about poor little Francis sitting passively at the top of the slide.

One of Dr. King’s principles was that being a bully isn’t good for one’s self-esteem. Dr. King was willing to face the mainstream of a violent country without returning its violence because he believed that bullies don’t like to see themselves as bullies. Often his strategy worked. Sometimes it was enormously costly.

The teacher of Kevin and Francis valued kindness and children’s exploration of their environment. She believed in using just enough external control to keep the children physically and emotionally safe. Had she cared more for control and order than for developing children, she would have simply removed Kevin from the slide without explanation or interest in his motives.

Be sure that the aggressor looks at the pain of the victim. 

Well-meaning but unskilled adults walk into that situation and say, ‘Kevin, you don’t want to go up the down side.” On reflection, we know that he does want to, that’s why he does it. Realizing this, we might say “Kevin, I see that you would like to go up the down side of the slide but right now Francis would like to slide down. Wait till he’s done and then you can have your turn.” That would be fine if Kevin were not already at the top of the slide by the time this long speech is finished. Fours are very fast, and Kevin wants to be fastest of all. We could catch hold of his foot, saying: “I don’t want you to go up right now.” By speaking this way we acknowledge the power we’re using. To change children’s behavior, get their attention and simply state: “I don’t want you to do that.” Get a hand on the child—not a mean hand, simply a firm grip—to make him stay put while you discuss the problem.

This teacher had several goals: 

“I wanted to let Francis slide down safely. He can’t climb up yet. but it was a lot of work for him to learn to go down, so I’m trying to allow him to do that. On the other hand, I wanted to let Kevin climb up the slide. It’s exercise, it’s an accomplishment, and he’s good at it. I just don’t want to let them hump into each other?”

Our workshop decided most of this teacher’s goals would be met if she said: “Kevin, hold it. Just wait. Francis, you can come on down now.” And after Francis reached the ground, “Okay, Kevin, up you go. In this way, everybody would get a turn.

However, Francis hasn’t said what he feels. We’ve been reading his mind, we’ve been reading Kevin’s mind, and we are controlling the situation. if we follow Dr. King’s teaching our task becomes helping these children practice skills that lead to cooperation, self-esteem, and speaking up for themselves.

First, stop Kevin. Then ask Francis, “What do you want to do?” If Francis doesn’t speak up: “You look like you want to slide down. Do you want to slide down?” If he nods, say to him, “Tell Kevin ‘I want to slide down.'” Get him to the point where he has said what he wants in his own voice. After Francis has spoken, ask Kevin, “Anything wrong with Francis sliding down’?” and let him graciously give Francis his chance. If Kevin’s having an anxiety fit, point out, “As soon as he’s down, you can go up.” Meanwhile, keep a hand on him. He knows you can forbid him or carry him away from the slide; you have what appears to him to be infinite power. Allowing him to participate in this kind of decision helps him experience his own appropriate strength. Thus Kevin discovers the joy of being helpful, which is such a boost to self-esteem that being faster or able to do more pales by comparison.

This is the kind of empowerment that the Civil Rights Movement achieved. If you feel the need to moralize to Kevin and Francis, you can say, See, this way you have what you want, and both of you feel good!”

Develop each person’s self-esteem: A lesson from Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A child can’t learn what Dr. King had to teach unless the child also learns pride and self-love. Becoming fair-minded takes a strength that is only available to people who know their own worth. Building children’s self-esteem is done or not done or undone all the time and in every interaction. Implementing a Child of the Day program gives a particular focus to the goal of letting each child experience individual recognition and leadership. In a group of 20, each child can have this special day once a month.

Some teachers have a fancy apron or cape or tool belt for the Child of the Day to wear and have several important tasks for that child to accomplish. In Sandy Farmer’s class, the Child of the Day announces cleanup by sounding a triangle and softly telling one child after another, “It’s time to clean up.” The child also puts toothpaste on individual pieces of waxed paper to be carried to the washroom. The Child of the Day selects the first song, is first to go outdoors, goes to the kitchen for bowls of second helpings, and gets first choice of activities.

Another activity for the Child of the Day can be what teacher Kate Rosen calls giving the message. When the children need to be reminded of their responsibility in a big school, as upon returning to the classroom from outdoors, the Child of the Day goes to the front of the group and says: “Please go indoors quietly, hang up your coats, and sit on the rug.” This idea of giving the message in any situation that recurs regularly spares children the tedium of hearing your voice endlessly repeat directions.

Another distinction for the Child of the Day is to receive a bouquet of friends. At circle time, ask if anyone wants to say something nice about the Child of the Day. Write each contribution on a flower cut from paper as children dictate. Of course, no child should be compelled to contribute a bouquet statement and all bouquet statements must be positive. You will find yourself writing sentiments like these: Fay says “I like Rosemary’s hugs.” Fern says “I like to play house with Rosemary.” Yoko says “I like to hammer with Rosemary.” Stan says  Rosemary has pretty eyes.” Neil says “I like to ride bikes with Rosemary.” Rosemary can then paste the flowers on a sheet of paper and put them in a book of nice things she has made or received.

Show children how Martin Luther King worked 

Teaching facts is a less effective educational method than is enabling children to experience, discover, think, and conclude, as early childhood educators well know. We need to consider this when helping young children understand why Dr. King is important. To make his work vivid to them, take them back to “Jim Crow” Montgomery.

The joy of being helpful is such a boost to self-esteem that being faster or able to do more pales by comparison.

Play Montgomery bus boycott 

When you cast the play, be sure to avoid typecasting. Ask children whether they want to be Black or White, giving each a black or white piece of paper to help everyone remember. Feel free to cast girls as Dr. King and boys as Mrs. Parks. Because the play will be repeated many times, everyone who wants to play a particular character will eventually get to play it.

You will need one chair for each child in the group except the extra White passenger, two dolls (one black and one white), two dimes, a place designated for a pay telephone and one for a jail, maybe a steering wheel for the bus, and one of the books from the Bibliography picturing Rosa Parks.

Tell the story of Rosa Parks. 

Gather the children around you. Show the picture of Rosa Parks.  Begin:

I want to tell you a true story about this woman. Her name is Mrs. Rosa Parks, and this story happened a long time ago, before you were born, before your mommy and daddy were born. Mrs. Parks lived in a place called Montgomery where there was a very bad rule. The rule said that people with dark skins, like this doll, had to do different things than people with light skins, like this doll. There were rules about where you could sit on the bus and where you couldn’t sit, where you could eat and where you couldn’t eat, where you could shop and where you couldn’t shop. There were rules about where you could go to the toilet and where you couldn’t go to the toilet, where you could get a drink of water and where you couldn’t get a drink of water, where you could go to school and where you couldn’t go to school, where you could get an ice cream cone and where you couldn’t. And all the rules said people with dark skin—Black people—got the worst places and people with light skin—White people had to be in the best places.

Mrs. Parks was a Black woman who worked sewing—that’s called a seamstress. She worked very hard and got very tired. One day she was riding the bus home from work and she was sitting in the first row of the section at the back of the bus where Black people had to sit. Now we need to make a bus so we can play this story, and then I’ll tell you the rest of it.

Organize the play.  Choose a driver; a Mrs. Parks, a Dr. King, and a police officer. Choose one “extra” White passenger to displace Mrs. Parks. Fill all the seats in the back with Black passengers and all the seats in the front with White passengers. Put the White driver in the driver’s seat. Leave no empty seats. Mrs. Parks sits in the first row of the Black section. Dr. King and the police officer need to wait offstage to get telephone calls.

The play begins.  Continue to tell the story. Coach each actor in what to say next, expecting children to use their own words. The “extra” White passenger enters the full bus. Now there are too many people riding the bus and so there aren’t enough seats. Make sure the children understand this.
“The bus driver tells Mrs. Parks that she has to give up her seat and go to the back and stand.”

Tell the driver to say that now. Repeat what the driver is to say. Encourage the child to repeat, using her own words, and to pretend to be bossy.
“Mrs. Parks is tired and says, ‘I’m too tired.'” Again, encourage the child to repeat your words and to look tired.

Use this approach throughout the play, until children begin to anticipate your words. This should start happening by the fourth or fifth repetition. The children may interrupt and ask, “Why does she have to stand?”

I, as the teacher, answer,
“Because of that awful rule about Black people being in one place and White people being in another, and the Whites getting the best place and the Blacks getting the worst.” Continue telling the story.

The bus driver tells Mrs. Parks, “Go to the back of the bus. It’s the law.” Mrs. Parks replies, “It’s a bad law.” So the bus driver takes a dime out of a pocket (that’s what it cost back then to use a pay telephone) and goes to the telephone and calls the police, saying, “Rosa Parks won’t go to the back of the bus. Please come and arrest her.”

The police come to take Mrs. Parks away to jail. They say, “You’re breaking the law.” She answers, “But I was here first. I’m tired and I need to stay sitting.” The officer tells her, “You can be tired in jail,” and takes her there.

When Mrs. Parks got to jail she was allowed to make a phone call. The city she lived in was called Montgomery, and the Black people there had an organization to help each other called the Montgomery Improvement Association. Mrs. Parks called her friends at the Montgomery Improvement Association, and told them what had happened. “I didn’t go to the back of the bus because I was tired. They sent for the police and brought me to jail.” The people at the Montgomery Improvement Association got Mrs. Parks out of jail and called everybody to come to a meeting. The leader at the meeting was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now change by 90 degrees the direction of the chairs that make up the bus. “We are now at a community meeting.” Begin the meeting, as happened in the Civil Rights Movement, with a song. You might try,

 If you miss me at the back of the bus
You can’t find me back there
Come on over to the front of the bus
I’ll be riding up there.

Help the children pretend to be Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and all the other people at the meeting trying to figure out what to do. Elicit nonviolent suggestions from the children.

Ask the children to discuss what is happening with Mrs. Parks. Is it fair? Consider both violent and peaceable alternatives, and how things might turn out with each. Ask the children, “What should we do?”

Tell them that at the meeting the people talked about what to do. Dr. King said, “We need to help Mrs. Parks, and we need to make the buses fair.”

Now the children should talk about ways to get the buses to be fair. Dr. King should help the group decide not to use ways that will just get them hurt, like throwing stones or shooting people. He should help them decide to boycott the buses until people can sit where they like and some Black bus drivers are hired.

The Black people in Montgomery thought Dr. King was right when he said, “It’s not fair that Mrs. Parks got pushed to the back of the bus. We have to make the buses fair.” They decided to boycott the buses. That means they decided, “We won’t ride the buses until we can sit where we like.” (Let each child repeat this sentence and then all say it in unison.)

They had meetings and they told the mayor and the bus company that they just wouldn’t ride until two things happened: The people would be able to sit where they liked, and some of the bus drivers would have to be Black. The bus company lost a lot of money because 50,000 Black people walked and car-pooled for one whole year! Fifty thousand people is more than I have ever seen in one place, more than a football crowd, more than a circus, even more than a parade! They walked to work for a year. That’s as long as from your birthday to your next birthday.

After a long time they won. Nowadays, when you go to Montgomery, you will see Black and White people sitting together in the buses, eating together in the restaurants, drinking from the same water fountain, going to school together, buying ice cream at the same place, and using the same bathrooms. Many people, White and Black, did lots of work to make that happen. If we think that something isn’t fair and we work together to change it, we can change it and change the world.

You can do this play often, letting the children choose whether or not they want to join in and, over time, giving everyone who participates a chance to be Dr. King and Mrs. Parks regardless of gender or color. Children love repetition because knowing what comes next makes them feel competent. Each time children repeat the play, they will  understand it better. You can add more information from time to time.

When Dr. King began his work he helped a seamstress get a seat on a bus. lust before he died he was helping the garbage collectors in Memphis get better pay for their work. He was interested in ordinary people with ordinary jobs. He wasn’t interested in fancy stuff, just fairness.

Dr. King’s work eventually caused the president of the United States to sign a law that changed this awful rule about separating Black and White people. Now we can all sit where we like on the bus.

Dr. King didn’t do all this by himself. He was a leader. People listened to his speeches and were interested in what he had to say. Millions of American people worked together to win fair rules. Dr. King needed everybody’s help to get the job done. Lots of people of all colors helped. Boys and girls, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins, and friends all walked instead of riding buses with bad rules. Sometimes they even had to go to jail like Mrs. Parks. Dr. King went to jail many times to show how wrong the bad rules were.

Discuss the death of Martin Luther King 

After we have lived with Dr. King for many months of the school year, repeatedly invoking him when episodes of injustice are occurring in our classroom, quoting him in response to “I don’t want to be your friend,” playing Montgomery bus boycott, and singing songs, we talk about Martin Luther King’s death. We talk about how awful it was. Dr. King said very brave and beautiful things about living and dying. We read this to the children:

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A PORTION OF THIS SPEECH

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

                      — From a speech made April 3, 1968, the night before he was murdered

The children have seen him alive on TV, so how can he be dead? We demystify the concept of videotape, an explanation children need so they can unravel truth from fiction and live from reruns. If you videotape the children early in the year and replay it later, children can conceptualize their own history through seeing the olden days of last month. Now you can explain that, although we can see videotapes of what he did and said when he was alive, Dr. King is really dead. Superman isn’t real and he’s on TV, and Reverend King was real but he’s dead. TV is very confusing. If we use this discussion to help children explore the ways in which death affects people and how we deal with it, emphasizing the fact that our memories of what the person was like live on as ideas inside our heads and ideas we can talk about, we will have helped to prepare children for when they experience death closer at hand.

Color, race, and racism 
 
It’s all very well to act in a play and to get compliments as the Child of the Day, but if you feel you are an inferior color, or a superior one for that matter, your self-esteem will be seriously impaired. Color matters in our culture, and children are going to have a lot to say once you open up the discussion.

You may want to make the children’s silhouettes. Let children choose from black, white, yellow, and red paper. You can use silhouettes to discuss the strange idea that although we call people Black or White, they are neither. As you make and discuss the silhouettes, see if their stark, uniform colors inspire questions from the children about skin color. Discussions that grow out of questions will be particularly fruitful. Silhouettes make attractive room decorations and serve as good gifts to families.

We need to let children talk about race without condemning what is on their minds. Some children will make racist comments because they have heard them at home. If we can talk about color as interesting, even though some people have terrible problems with it then children will have plenty to say. Our own racism and our insecurity about it may make it hard for us to listen to this type of discussion.

If you were raised prejudiced, as most people were, it is especially valuable to tell children,

“When I was a little girl people told me that (Blacks, Indians, rich people, Latins, Hispanics, poor people, Asians, Irish people, deaf people, Russians, Italians, people in wheelchairs, Jews, Whites) weren’t as good as we were, but I’ve decided that I want to be friends with everybody I choose. I’ve changed a lot. You too can decide how you want to feel about people who seem different from you.”

Teaching multiracial material is risking treading on people’s prejudices, but… 

If, like Dr. King, children are to make a difference in the world, they must be able to decide for themselves. You can discuss all sorts of differences with children. Is it okay to like a girl if you’re a boy? Somebody with long hair if you have short hair? Somebody brown if you are pink? Somebody old if you’re young? Somebody tall if you’re short? Can you like babies if you’re big? None of us has the last word on these matters. All of us can think of people who are hard to like and people who we wish would like us more.

One of our responsibilities is to teach children that they can think anything or feel anything without being bad people it’s what they do that counts. I can feel like obliterating my boss. As long as I don’t do it, I am not guilty of murder. We don’t have to like somebody to treat them fairly. Dr. King taught us to treat everybody fairly no matter what we think or feel about them. Many children grow up without learning the difference between having the feeling and acting upon it.

Some children will make racist comments because they’ve heard them at home.

But what about parents’ opinions?

In discussing racism in school we don’t intend to put children in conflict with their parents. For the child who is being taught racial superiority, it’s important to acknowledge that people think differently. We have a right and a responsibility to explain,

It’s true that some people feel their skin color makes them better than other people, but some people feel other ways. You can decide what you feel. If you like
people of all colors, you know you do, and nothing anybody says will make you forget.

Work with others 

To teach this program in isolation entails a high risk of treading on somebody’s prejudices. Some people—parents or other staff members—may think the children are too young to deal with things that trouble adults about the real world, whereas others may think your program is too radical. If you expect difficulty from parents, assemble your support system.

Get support from your director by assuming that of course she supports you, because most publicly funded programs have a mandate to teach multiculture. It is helpful if your director puts on record that it is the policy of your program to teach multicultural education, and parents are not free to reject this element of the program.

People tend to be less defensive if they know what to expect, so discuss your plans with parents in advance of your lessons. At a parents’ meeting present some of the points you will be teaching the children. Explain to parents that there are only two options for our children: to learn to live with all the various people in the world or to be afraid of others and to fight them.

Ask parents about their cultures and the events, heroes, songs, and stories they would like you to include in future celebrations. Any of  these might lead you to activities like those suggested here, based on Dr. King. Dr. Masako Tanaka asks parents to close their eyes to remember their childhoods and seek experiences that made them feel warmly connected to their elders. She uses these recollections as a basis for planning cultural studies for the children.

Consider using a fairly simple globe of the world. Send home to each family a request to know the countries all their people came from. There is a good opportunity to explore the cultures of Native American people while you wait for the specific family background data on Europeans or Asians or Africans. You can then tape signs on the globe: Mary’s great-grandmother on Ireland, Sammy’s grandfather on Russia, and so on. Work with the facts that people who came from one part of the world tend to have yellow-pink skin and brown or yellow hair; people from another part of the world tend to have black or brown skin and very curly hair; people from yet another part of the world tend to have yellow-brown skin and straight black hair.

This activity should give children a sense of why people are different colors and why their family members look the way they do. It should also teach them that one of the most interesting things about this country is that people come from all over the world to live here.

Conclusion

The children you teach will support each other better as a result of the curriculum about Dr. King. Probably children will hurt each other’s feelings less often. When a child gets hurt or a child’s feelings get hurt or a child is unhappy and your loving impulse urges you to run to comfort her or him, you have alternatives. You can encourage another child to help instead. Many of us learned to support our peers in our 20s and 30s and 40s. The children we teach will be much better off when we transfer to them what we’ve learned about networking and helping.

If you include them in the planning, most children’s families will support your work in multiculture. They will want their children to learn these lessons—understanding that without multicultural education we are prey to suspicion and mistrust. As we learn to enjoy each other and our diverse cultures, we approach the ancient universal dream of living together in peace and love on our small planet—a dream so well retold by Dr. King.

note: This is the end of the body of the article.  There were sidebars, bibliographies, and a portrait of the author…you will find them below.

First sidebar:

Let the children hear Dr. King’s eloquent voice

You might play a recording of this part of his famous 1963 speech:

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A PORTION OF THIS SPEECH

“So I say to you my friends, that even though we have faced the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day in the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words interposition and nullification, that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

After the children have heard him, I say to them, “Dr. King wanted all the children to be friends.”

Another sidebar

As another musical support to your curriculum about Dr. King, you can teach the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” which has been sung in meetings and church halls and schools in thousands of places around the world by millions of people.

Stand and cross your arms over your chest reaching out to join hands with the others in the circle.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

There are more verses. Black and White together … We are not alone….
You and the children can make more verses still.

It is very important that children understand the essence of the words we’re teaching them in our plays, in our songs, and in other ways. They must understand, for instance, that the song “We Shall Overcome” is not about poor Black people. The Civil Rights Movement was never just about Black people living in poverty.

It was about

  •     the damage of an unequal relationship to both oppressor and oppressed;
  •     the interconnectedness of all people;
  •     courage to do what’s right; and
  •     how to be a good and caring person.

© 1988 NAEYC.  Copyright transferred 1999 to Sydney Clemens. Permission to reprint is required only if this material is to be reprinted in another form such as a book, newsletter, or journal. Request permission from Sydney Gurewitz Clemens in writing. I’m very interested in how this is used, and appreciate being told, even when not required because of copyright. SGC

Bibliography from My 1987 Article on Dr. King
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Bibliography from My 1987 Article

Juvenile Picture Books

(Note: All these books are too old for 4-year-olds. Use the pictures and tell the story. Don’t emphasize the murder, but rather focus upon the work on behalf of the community. (We know other stuff about Lincoln and Kennedy than that they were assassinated.) Leave the books around for children to look at.)

Davidson, M. (1986). 1 have a dream. New York: Scholastic.
Tells King’s story in a Black history context. Good photos.

de Kay, J. T. (1969). Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Random House.
Good photos and a few drawings.

<span “>Hunter, N. (1985). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Bookwright Press.

<span “>Lowery, L. (1987). Martin Luther King Day. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda.
Too much text for one sitting;  could be read a couple of pages at a sitting. Clear language and concepts, more upbeat and constructive than many of the others.

McKissack, P.C. (1986). Our Martin Luther King Book. Elgin, IL: The Child’s Distributed by Children’s Press, 1224 W. Van Buren St., Chicago, IL 60607.
I’d read this one in two or three sittings. It takes a kindergarten class through the i ideas of civil rights and prejudice, includes the music and words to “We Shall Overcome,” has beautiful llustrations—some photos but mostly drawings—and suggests that children make their own book about Dr. King.   This  book  uses the King holiday to help children understand many things, including the ways  we celebrate.  My favorite. Patterson, L. (1977).

Medearis, Angela Shelf, & Anna Rich (Illustrator). Dare to Dream: Coretta Scott King and the Civil Rights Movement  Puffin Reprint edition (January 1999).
As usual, too many words for preschool children. Use the pictures and retell more simply.

Paulsen, G., & Theis, D. (1976). Martin Luther King, The man who climbed the mountain.  Milwaukee, WI: Rain-tree.
More dense than the others; more information on the influence of Gandhi on King. Good photos

Thompson, M. (1983). Martin Luther King, Jr.: A story for children. Family Development  Association, Inc., P.O. Box 485, New York, NY 10009.
Very little text, strong drawings.

Wilson, B. P. lIlus. F. Sowell. (1971). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Putnam.
Beautifully illustrated with pencil drawings. Simply told … but still too long for 3s and 4s.

Books For Adults

Bennett, L. (1968). What manner of man. New York: Pocket Books.

Garrow, D.J. (1986). Bearing the cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern  Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow. Pulitzer Prize biography.

King, C. S. (1969). My life with Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Lewis, D. L. (1979). King, a biography. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Oates, S.B. (1982). Let the trumpet sound: The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
A gifted historian’s notable book.

Schulke, F., & McPhee, P.O. (1986). King remembered. New York: Norton. Washington, J. M. (Ed.) (1986). Testament of hope: The essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
Excerpts of the main writings and speeches. Great resource book.

Resources for Adults on Building Self-Esteem in Children

Bank Street College of Education. (1985). Raising a confident child. New York: Pantheon.

Briggs, D. C. (1970). Your child’s self-esteem. New York: Doubleday.
The best book about why 2-year-olds are like that.

Clemens, S. G. (1984). The Sun’s Not Broken, A Cloud’s Just in the Way: On Child-centered Teaching. Mt. Rainier,MD: Gryphon House.

Faber, A., & Mazush, E. (1982). How to talk so kids will talk and listen so kids will talk. New York: Avon.

Ginott, H. G. (1975). Teacher and child. New York: Avon.

Gonzalez-Mena, I., & Eyer, J. (1980). Infancy and caregiving. Palo Alto, CA:Mayfield.
Self-esteem in babies.

Jersild, A. T. (1955). When teachers face themselves. New York: Teachers College Press,
Columbia University.
To support children we must develop ourselves.

McGinnis, J. B., & McGinnis, K. (1981). Parenting for peace and justice.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

<span “>Pogrebin, L. C. (1980). Growing up free: Raising your child in the 80’s. New York:  Bantam.

Records, Cassettes, and Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Highlander Research and Education Center, Route 3, Box 370, New Market, TN 37820.
Write for a catalog. Includes Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the freedom movement and We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Movement

Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, 449 Auburn St., N. E., Atlanta, GA 30312. Write for a listing of their books, cassettes, and records.

And of Course You Will Want Dr. King’s Own Books

<span>Stride toward freedom: The Montgomery story. (1958)  New York: Harper.
Strength to love. (1963). New York: Harper & Row.
Why we can’t wait. (1964). New York: Harper & Row.
Trumpet of conscience. (1968). New York: Harper & Row
Washington, I. M. (Ed.). (1986) Testament of hope: The essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row

© 1988 NAEYC.  Copyright transferred 1999 to Sydney Clemens. Permission to reprint is required only if this material is to be reprinted in another form such as a book, newsletter, or journal.

<span>Request permission from Sydney Gurewitz Clemens in writing, at sydney@eceteacher.org  or at 73 Arbor Street, San Francisco, CA 94131.  I’m very interested in how this is used, and appreciate being told, even when not required because of copyright. SGC

Ivan the Terrible: Sheltering the Out-of-Bounds Child
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sunsNotBrkn

Ivan the Terrible: Sheltering theOut of Bounds Child

A chapter from The Sun’s Not Broken, A Cloud’s Just in the Way: On Child-Centered Teaching

COPYTRIGHT 1983 Sydney Gurewitz Clemens.

Click HERE to Order

The strongest child I’ve ever encountered was Ivan.  He had gone to a foster home in July of his fourth year when his parents abandoned him, his two older sisters and his baby brother.  By August he’d been seen by a doctor, diagnosed as hyperactive, and put on Ritalin until his foster mother decided to take him off medication.  I’m glad she took him off, because I don’t want to work with drugged children.  The one time I was asked to work with a child on Ritalin, I agreed to do so only if he was freed from medication.  The loving gardener cultivates without chemicals.  When children need to find self-control, let’s spare them from dependence on drugs.  (See Peter Schrag’s book, The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, Pantheon, 1975.)

In September Ivan came to our class.  Here are our log entries about him:

September 15.  Anxious that I take his picture in a hurry!  Rode bike strongly.  Heard story tape twice: later told his foster mother, “It says, ‘Turn the page, the cow jump over the moon.’ ” Turns pages well.  Loved organ, but turned the switch on and off despite our telling him to leave the switch alone.  Went up the treehouse.  A bee came by him in the playground and he freaked out, terrified. Very excited when he eats: dropped food on the floor three times. Eats largely.

September 16.  Played a lot of organ, ate a lot again. Pulled Georgia in the wagon. Heard a tape a couple of times. Asked Katherine if he could help her put out the bikes again, and did it with good sense, returning for another bike after each one was out without any adult prompting.

September 17.  Enjoyed story, Caps for Sale—he’d heard it before, somewhere.  Can restrain himself from talking out of turn, but it’s really hard for him, since what he has to say is so powerful.  Said his sisters and brother and mother hate him.

September 20.  Put bikes away on his own.  Likes responsibility.  Planted a marigold.  Up the ladder.  Worked a long time on a collective drawing: made a person who later became a monster.  Decided to let cottage cheese slop down his chin when his mouth was full.  Very messy.  This bothered Katherine who told him not to do it, and he stopped.

September 21.  Got weary toward end of day but couldn’t talk about his fatigue and its cause with me.  Tested well on verbal, visual, and number÷is classically bright.  On the phone in the playhouse, talking to Joyce, whom he calls “my girlfriend.”  Told Katherine, “She doesn’t like me, she loves me.”  He began reading, and his first two words were “Ivan” and “teacher.”  Painted÷his original picture disappears under a second layer each time he paints.

September 22.  Wanted to remember his reading words by their sequence, but learned how to identify them by their appearance, instead.

September 24. The others are upset by his boisterous interruptions of our meetings.  Ivan needs to be helped to be calm in the group.  We’ll try having Katherine sit close so we don’t need to interrupt the meeting just because he does.  Asked for his mother’s name to read.  Says she misses him too.  Picks up everything fast÷body language as well as verbal.  Someday this will be a safe space for Ivan.

September 27.  Very angry today, erupted and erupted.  Settled for permission to go out in the yard and yell and run around.  Strongest four-year-old I’ve ever known!  Punched pillow.  Volunteered to be rocked.  I’m exhausted.

September 28.  Conference is set up for next week with his Department of Social Services worker, his foster mother, and my friend, Dr. Martin Shaffer, a psychologist.  I am feeling relief that we are getting to work on this child’s problems, since his pain is apparent most of the time.  His bedwetting is regular and made placement in a foster home hard; all four children wet the bed every night from the eleven-year-old down to the baby.

October 1.  Conference: hard to talk with faster mother since she was taking Ivan and Harry home, and “keeping” two other children, all of whom kept interrupting our conference.  She feels that he’s too demanding and sometimes “gets to” she appears genteel, but pushed one of the little kids hard.  Another person struggling to do her best, I take it.  She said we could make a home visit.

October 6.  Seemed to hold back when playing with our inflated swords with Rita.  Very gentle.  When playing Lotto Katherine had five boards and gave three to Ivan and two to Harry, promising Harry three next time, but Ivan said, generously, “Give it to Harry.”

October 7.  I read a story about a rocking chair, and then he asked, in a little boy voice (not his usual tough, sophisticated way at all),  “Sydney, give me some lovin.”  Says his foster mother doesn’t hold him on her lap.  Said he likes his Daddy’s lap.

October 11.  Lots of hugging and “I love you” and asking for lap, loving.  Does it in righteous fashion, asks and accepts in a way I can only admire.  Certain it will come.  Uses food for confrontation a lot grabbed the pomegranate we were all sharing and licked it, very gross for the adults to deal with.  Can’t use machines for a week because he’s still unwilling to leave on and off switches to the grownups.  I love him, but he does get to me.

October 12.   Absolutely plays dominoes counts, knows colors, moves.  Asked to join Harry and Moses and played nicely.

October 13.  Doesn’t do the bear puzzle as well as we’d expect.  Is it because the baby bear is cuddled up to the mama?

October 19.  Very negative day.  Unplugged the projector which freaked Katherine out-ran out of the yard.  Cried when I held and rocked him.   I sent up flares to our social worker.  Is barred from using the projector for a week.

October 20.  Good day, perhaps because lots of rocking and loving early in the day, later a hug as he came to the meeting kept him in pretty good shape.

October 22.  Phone rang early and he asked, “Should I get it?”  I said, “No, thank you.”  This is Ivan letting me regulate his behavior!  Let mim have the projector back (told him his week was up—so I lied a little) and he loved seeing his slides again.

October 25.  He found Anita bleeding and crying in the yard and carried her across the yard to Katherine!

November 4.  Reluctant to do arts, wants to r-r-rum little cars all the time, but enjoys art when I tell him to paint or draw for a little while.  Like kids who hate to get into or out of the bathtub.

November 15.  Visited Ivan’s home.  It is visually very stimulating, many plants and many, many decorative objects around.  Seven or eight children running in and out made me unable to attend to much of anything there.  Ivan liked having me at his house, but seemed more concerned that the other kids shouldn’t get next to me than with enjoying me himself.

My friend Isobel visiting today noticed that Ivan has a deep and fine feeling for poetry and music gets out of himself and into the music and is whole.  He delighted her when he chanted, at snack, “Yummy in the tummy.”

November 22.  Got in trouble twice—once he “messed with” my label maker and got benched, emerging contrite to a fine reading lesson.  Other time he threw water at Nell, who cried and cried and cried until Ivan looked really ashamed.

November 23.  Cursing a lot.  Called me “bitch” and used all the big ones quietly to me; my line is that I don’t mind those words but there are people who mind them and Ivan had better be careful how he uses them around these people.  He knows that some of the children really don’t like cursing, and that I support their insistence that he not hurt them this way.

Well behaved and a delight at the Ella Jenkins concert—shouted heartfelt responses to the mime who opened the concert: “We won’t hurt you!” etc.  Just peachy!

December 8.  Told me about the time his mother asked him to get a knife when she was fighting, said “I stayed in the bed.”  Who was she fighting?  “My Daddy.”  Testing today included: riding bike indoors over the mat kids were tumbling on; piling toast on the table; climbing up a bookcase; and throwing raisins.

Curled up in a sunny spot with a book for a while, I called him my kitty and took another picture for him to enjoy in the slide projector.

December 9.  Jealous when our social worker went off with another kid.

(After winter vacation we were less regular in our logging, since we felt we had a pretty good idea of who the children were.)

February 1. (Logged by Polly, student teacher) Sydney really “sat on” Ivan today.  He really needed it.  (Yea! Sydney.)

February 2.  Told me “My heart is breaking.”  Turns out his sister kicked him in the stomach.

February 6.  Gets a lot out of slugging the pillow.  He sometimes yells at a particular person, sometimes feels his pain visibly.  He remembers to ask for the pillow often, and is glad when we think to offer it to him.

February 7.  Ivan’s dream:  I was in a hospital with my mother and she went home and I stole nine dollars form the bank and the police ran after me and I was dead.

February 8.  Helped the sub run the class.bubblesmain

February 9. “Bad dreams come from your stupid brain.”  “I wanted my dream to live!”

February 14. Disturbed all morning after walk to park.  Told Katherine “That’s where Robert, my Mama’s boyfriend, died; he set the house afire.”

March 4.   Asked if Richard, a visitor, was Polly’s husband.  Also whispered delicately to me, “Can I give him a hug?”

Children in our room toilet themselves when they need to, eat when they’re hungry, and paint when the spirit moves them.  Ivan couldn’t manage these freedoms without abusing them-hurting children and trashing their work-so we had to construct a safe place for him, inside the space the rest of the children use as a school.  Sometimes this meant limiting his choices to activities he couldn’t spoil for the others by being wild, so, for instance, we wouldn’t let him build blocks with others.

Sometimes, usually late in the week, he could be treated more or less like the others, except that we had to check more often that he was okay.  Otherwise we’d find that he had disrupted several children.  When Ivan was really flailing about, incapable of self-control, I’d make him into an extension of my left hand.  He’d go through the day with me, like a baby in a stroller, stopping when I stopped, going where I went, and being repeatedly exposed to situations where other children were praised for doing reasonable things.

Every day Ivan tested the strength of our rules.  At the beginning of the year he tried us several hundred times a day.  He’d crash his bike into other bikes, shove the dollhouse dishes off the table where a nice “party” was going on, and yell during the softest parts of a story I’d be reading.  By the end of the year, on a good day, there’d be fewer than a dozen times when he’d test us.

He spent enormous energy determining that we were indeed strong enough to take care of him.  I took the slide projector to be repaired each of the three times he threw it on the floor.  He found that he got a fair amount of attention from me when he broke an expensive machine, so he repeated the behavior.  Then he got stuck to my left hand for a number of days, unable to choose what he played with, the way other other children did.  He got no direct attention from me in this way.  I just tugged him to come along, and sat him down next to me wherever I sat.  This way he saw the class from my perspective-children working steadily and checking with adults before they moved on to other work or play.

Since he’d always gotten attention at home for being “bad”, he was already convinced when he reached school that survival means being bad enough to get all the attention you need.  We had to let him know that people can have attention for being good, and that they can even have it for free!  Reports from his kindergarten teacher next year showed that he’d learned this hard lesson.

We carefully heeded what Ivan told us, responded respectfully, and talked about him only with people we knew would help him.  It became clear to him that with us he could safely express his pain.

Ivan confided some really horrible experiences to us.  Once, when he was less than four, his mother and father were fighting and his mother told him to get her a knife.  He reported that he didn’t do it.  To refuse complicity in violence is heroic at any age.

The other children don’t involve themselves directly in the problems of an Ivan.  They may have sympathy, but he disrupts the environment enough to make them very glad to see a grownup step in and firmly restore order.  Disorder is frightening.  Children can relax when a fair teacher is in charge.  Healthy children naturally keep a little distance from neurotic ones.  The healthy ones would like things to be better, but know that they haven’t the power to control such a child.  When they are getting what they need from the environment, they don’t begrudge him special care.

Children need to know that they have strong people around them, and teachers have to be sensitive to the use and abuse of power.  Adults owe children at least a few years of safety.  Consequently I often feel even more put off by permissive, kindly, weak teachers than by authoritarian, strict, powerful ones.  We all seek to feel the substance and power of our comrades and mentors, but little children need it by virtue of their powerlessness.

When children pretend to be Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the Lone Ranger, what they’re saying about themselves is, “The only way to be safe is to have a powerful ally, and this character will be mine, and protect me.”  A child with a toy gun is making the same statement.

(Paragraph omitted 2002, because I’ve changed my opinion about it, and don’t want to rewrite here.)

Grownups a child can count on may supply a breathing space in a hard world for benign fantasy, delight, joy, and ecstasy, by shielding children as much as possible from what is harsh, cruel, thoughtless and immoral.  The worst damaged children require this kind of fence around their pasture.  They need to know we will take care of them when they’re angry-even when they’re angry at us.

Ivan could trust us to take over when his self-control gave out.  He acknowledged his feelings and expressed them, expecting us to be the grownups and keep him safe.  We were proud when we could.

In a year when others read an average of thirty words by June, Ivan read ninety. He was brilliant, absorbing at a fierce rate all the material we gave him. We made him books on all his important subjects: who he loved, what frightened him, staying dry at night, riding the two-wheeler.  He learned to use this wonderful reading to take charge of some of his out-of-control life.  However, his real brilliance lay in being clearer about what he was feeling than most adults every become.  And he demanded solutions to his very real, though sometimes insoluble, problems.  We couldn’t make his parents want Ivan.  We couldn’t make his sisters be kind to him.  As a child who had been through violent and painful experiences all his four years, Ivan had ample excuse to become squashed, a vegetable.  Instead, his vitality was deeply attractive, and his contact with his inner states nothing less than inspired.  Every year, when we discuss skin color, some children tell em I’m black like them.  Ivan was one of these.  I’m pleased if they see me as black, because that’s the color of the people they love.  (I have straight, dark hair, brown eyes, and very pale skin.  Only someone who was black and loved me and was projecting could think I was black.)  I tell the children I’m glad they love me.  And I tell them I’m white. It seems important to me that they hear that someone they care for happens to be white. It was hard for Ivan to hear me say this. I’m not sure he ever really accepted my story. If he didn’t, I’m glad to be black for Ivan.

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For permission to copy this, e-mail Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, sydney@eceteacher.org

Posted March 24, 2002.

My Musings on Process vs. Product
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My Musings on Process vs. Product

by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

Sept. 18, 2001

When I paint I get stuff out. That’s good, and it happens if I’m allowed to do it my way, and it happens much less if others tell me the right way.

As I’m painting, I see what comes out. This may matter little, but there is a product. At some point in my development I may (likely will) come to care about how that product looks. If I have just enough help to make it look that way, I am delighted and go on. If I get too much help, or help of the wrong  sort, I am sure the whole thing isn’t at all worth while for me, and give up.

My teachers must be sensitive to my situation. They must be aware that mostly this is my business, and not ask me “what is it?” or tell me, unasked, that my horse needs another leg. But when I ask them, or when I’m frustrated and look stuck, they should ask if I’m stuck, and if I say yes, they can offer a small suggestion.

Like anything else, it is helpful when I want the help, and not when I don’t.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984
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Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s work helped me form and polish my own. I’ve done extensive research on her life and work as a teacher, and offer her books (most of them out of print) for sale. Below you’ll find an article I’ve written for an encyclopedia, trying to put the salient facts into a short form. From the forthcoming Greenwood publication “Early Childhood Education: An International Encyclopedia,” edited by Rebecca S. New and Moncrieff Cochran.

New Zealand’s Sylvia Ashton-Warner exemplifies the reflective teacher, studying the response of the children in her classroom to her work, and modifying it in turn so that their learning will be optimum.

She wrote eleven books (1959-1979). In the most important of them, Teacher [1] , Ashton-Warner tells of her struggle to teach beginning reading to very young Maori children, since she had found that the books and lessons used with white children were incomprehensible and boring for Maori children to relate to.

Her methods strongly influenced many other teachers who found themselves in cross-cultural settings, and who wished to avoid “colonizing” the children. She worked during a time when reading primers still depicted only white, middle-class children. Children of color had little to identify with in the sterile text or the European urban illustrations of the available primers, and little incentive to learn.

Ashton-Warner’s passionate writing and her ability to portray classrooms in a way that makes them come alive on the page, earned her a world-wide audience. Her books have been translated into more than seventeen languages.

Social critic Paul Goodman wrote:

“Consider … the method employed by Sylvia Ashton-Warner in teaching little Maoris. She gets them to ask for their own words, the particular gut-word of fear, lust, or despair that is obsessing the child that day; this is written for him on strong cardboard; he learns it instantaneously and never forgets it; and soon he has an exciting, if odd, vocabulary. From the beginning, writing is by demand, practical, magical; and of course it is simply an extension of speech — it is the best and strongest speech, as writing should be. What is read is what somebody is importantly trying to tell.” [2] 

Ashton-Warner was motivated by the artist’s urge to express strong feelings, and saw the same urge in the children. That observation led her to develop her reflective instructional method. She also orchestrated the school day so it would alternate between expressive activities chosen by the children and activities in which the teacher imparts new information. She called this alternation “breathing in and out.”

She wrote about the relationship of early education to world peace, believing that if children have peaceful means of expression they will not be aggressive or violent.She, herself, was unable to reconcile her artistic life with her family life. Her drawing, painting of watercolors, and playing piano couldn’t directly be reconciled with her life as a wife and a mother. She and her husband, Keith Henderson, worked out an unusual domestic arrangement. She created in her twenties, and in each place she lived afterwards, a separate writing space she called “Selah” (a place of rest). Her husband, Keith, was the main childcare provider for the family. This scandalized the neighbors, as Ashton-Warner recorded.

She was more honored in the United States, and in other countries, than in her own New Zealand. Despite her receipt of the New Zealand Book Award in 1979 for her autobiography, I Passed This Way, she had felt neglected by her country for most of her life. Many in New Zealand education still speak of her as if she was not special. In the rest of the world her influence is felt, although usually not in mainstream. Her work was implemented in early Head Start programs (notably Mississippi Child Development Program), in many of the alternative schools of the 1960s in the U.S. Teachers in scattered classrooms around the world continue to use her methods to introduce young children to reading.

This kind of thinking exists at the present time in the work of Vivian Gussin Paley, Karen Gallas, Cynthia Ballenger, and others, and the work of the centers for young children in Reggio Emilia.

Bibliography:

Ashton-Warner, Sylvia

Bell Call, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1964 {1971}

Greenstone, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1966 {1967}.

I Passed This Way, NY, Knopf, 1979 {1979} [1979].

Incense to Idols, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1960 {1960}.

Myself, NY Simon and Schuster, 1967 {1969}.

O Children of the World …, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, The First Person Press, 1974.

Spearpoint, NY, Knopf, 1972.

Spinster, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1959 {1958} [distributed by Heinemann].

Stories from the River, Auckland, New Zealand: Hodder and Stoughton, [1986].

Teacher, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1963. Three, NY, Knopf, 1970.

Clemens, Sydney Gurewitz. 1996. Pay Attention to the Children: Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Order here: BOOKSTORE

Hood, Lynley. 1988. Sylvia! The Biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Auckland, NZ Viking Penguin.

Ashton-Warner, Sylvia. 1963.  Teacher. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goodman, Paul. 1964. Compulsory Education, New York: Vantage, page 26

Articles Not on the Web:

Book Reviews: Circle of Love, by Amy C Baker & Lynn A Manfredi/Petitt and Teaching with Love by Lisa S Goldstein. 

In Childhood Education, Journal of the Association for Childhood International, Fall, 1998.

Free to be a Teacher in Focus, Bulletin of WVA. AEYC, February, 1987.

Naming the Pictures in our Hearts: Sylvia Ashton-Warner & the Key Vocabulary
Claremont Reading Conference Yearbook, 1990
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This article is available also from Pacific Oaks College (Pasadena, Calif.) Bookstore, as an Occasional Paper Column, “Ask Sydney” in San Francisco Head Start Newsletter, 1993-94 (4 issues)