January 17, 2011

We Shall Overcome

Today was Martin Luther King Jr. day - we celebrated by doing school and learning a lot about his life.  When my kids began their complaining about being forced to school while the neighbors were outside sledding I had a momentary laughable moment in my mind.  Thankfully I did not laugh out loud, though  I did ask them when they last had school on a Friday?  They could not remember - nor will they have one coming up soon.  I reminded them how long our Christmas break was, when we start and finish our school year typically and how many snow afternoons they have.  They grew quiet in case they were about to lose any of those benefits and settled back into work. 

It was a very productive day - we did only math for a core subject and two of the kids did theirs on the computer :)  As I am typically a stickler for certain daily core subjects (math, spelling, writing, reading, grammar, and logic for the older students) this was quite a shock to their system.  We began the day with science simply because Sirah brought me that book first and asked me to start reading.  We learned about various bodily systems (excretory, muscle, skeletal and digestive), and basic botany introduction.  There actually was a link but it would take to long to write.  The kids then wanted to have some free experiment time so I made myself a cup of coffee and gave them a half hour with strict instructions to clean up their messes.  A half hour later I returned to a room that now smelled of vinegar but to their credit was clean again. 

We settled into our main lesson for the day, the life and work of Martin Luther King.  I do different things on different years but this year I read aloud the book "If you lived at the time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine.  It is a very good book which pays excellent attention to detail but still reads in a way that keeps their attention.  My kids are now 7, 9 and 11.  This was an introduction to some hard topics for my 7 year old but she seemed to take them in stride well enough through our discussion time.  I spent the better part of 2 hours reading this book to them, stopping at times to discuss topics, answer questions, watch the actual footage from the "I have a dream" speech and learn the song "We Shall Overcome".  During that time they built things with Legos and Lincoln Logs while they learned.  While listening to the song Maria said to me "I never realized it before but Fields of Athenry is really similar to this only Irish" I could see her mind making the connections and just left her to them for the moment.

After the lesson a much needed sledding with the neighbors break was had by all the kids while I had my cup of tea and lunch.  We returned to school and I began with an open time for them to ask questions or discuss whatever they wanted from the morning and then the older two kids had to work on their main assignment - creating their own version of I have a dream.  Maria had to write a one page essay outlining a problem in the world that needs our attention and outline what she can do and what society needs to do to help overcome it.  Ciaran had the same assignment only he had to give an oral report rather than write an essay.  She choose reducing fossil fuels and he chose reducing deforestation, they did not know each others topics and had choice of anything they wanted.  While they worked on that Sirah finished up her other book work and reading for the day. 

They will not admit it but I think they are glad we did school today.  They still got to sled, ice skate, play video games and read for leisure just like the neighbors.  In addition though they learned something new and were excited to think about the possibilities of how it could be applied in their lives.  Sirah made some important connections between today's lessons and the ones we recently did during our Enlightenment studies and what it means to be a leader and speak truth in a world that seems incapable of hearing or believing it.  As I sat in my chair listening to her young mind ask pointed questions and draw lines between today's lesson and lessons from last week without prompting I was reminded of how little credit we give kids sometimes.  For a 7 year old to see parallels between Galileo and Martin Luther King Jr is no small feat, yet it is also not an incredible one for kids can tune in to truths and lessons we sometimes overlook as adults.  Children have a way of processing information and seeing connections to their own lives in ways we sometimes lose sight of as we go about trying to earn more knowledge or recall what we already know.  As I watch my children learn and discuss even the heaviest of topics I see how they make it personal to relate to it and understand it and how that trait perhaps helps them remember other parts of history and see connections often lost on people looking at the tree and forgetting they are in a forest. 

As we closed the lesson today I asked my kids if they feel our society has moved to a point where children are judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  They were quiet for a moment and said well we don't have separate drinking fountains, buses and the like anymore and President Obama is our leader.  Sirah piped up that she was glad she could hold hands with all her friends and go places together as they grew older.  Maria seemed quiet and did not answer I think she is old enough to understand the question is more complicated that it first seems.  We have come a long way and we need to still remember that We Shall One Day Overcome"

Thanks you Dr. King for all you did for me, for my children, for our nation, for our collective wisdom.  May we not only never forget your work and the lessons you imparted to us but may we always pick up the torch and carry it forth and pass it to our children and ask them to do the same. 

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