Thursday, January 20, 2011


Today we did another lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr. (I teach Science or Social Studies every Tuesday and Thursday.) Our kids were starting to remember the stories, but I didn't think they'd really gotten just how unfair everything was.

I started out by doing a read-aloud, but on the SmartBoard. I called students to sit by what color they were wearing. I told them, "Well, red shirts are the best, so if you have a red shirt, come sit in the front row." A couple of kids looked at me quizzically, but they went with it. "Blue shirts, I guess you're okay. Come on up in the second row. Remember, only red shirts are good enough to be in front." Then I continued. "Everyone else..."

The other kids started to stand up, but I said, "You have to stay at your seats." There were a couple of angry faces, but only one spoke out and I shushed him quickly. "Now I need someone to go turn off the lights." Hands shot up. "But it's an important job, so I want someone with a red shirt."

We went on to read this book, and when I had a question to ask, I only called on kids with red shirts. One time I said another student's name, but stopped myself and said, "Oh, wait, I need to choose someone with a red shirt. Those are the smartest kids." The girl I had almost called on was indignant, and I heard some surprised gasps, but I kept moving with the lesson and at the end, called everyone down to the carpet.

I talked about how Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't like that people were judged by the color of their skin, and then I asked the kids what I had been judging them by. Some of the kids- especially those in the back of the room- had hands in the air immediately. I explained that I didn't really think shirt color mattered, but we talked about how it made people feel when I pretended it did.

A few minutes later, we finished the book, with everyone sitting together. I felt like it had gone well, and the kids really seemed to have understood on an emotional level (not just a cognitive one) how it would feel to be judged on an arbitrary characteristic. (A lot of teachers do this with eye color, but I didn't think I had enough variation in our class to make it useful.)

I noticed at the end of the story, one girl was crying. It was the girl I had almost called on but then stopped to call on someone with a red shirt. I felt terrible- even though I'd meant to make the situation feel unfair, I didn't want her still upset! Especially because she's not one of those kids who cries often.

We all went back to our seats, and I immediately went over to her. As she sat down, I told her that I hadn't really meant that she wasn't smart enough to answer the question, that I was sure she knew the answer, and that I was only trying to show how unfair things used to be. She nodded. I asked her if she was mad at me, and she said, "No."

I was confused. "What's wrong?"

She looked up at me, wiping away one of her last tears, and just said simply, "I'm sad that someone killed Martin Luther King."

I don't know if it was the shirt color segregation or what, but something hit home.

1 comment:

Autumn said...

Aww, that's such a sweet comment. It makes you feel really good when it hits home so deeply for a student like that. Sounds like a great lesson plan!