In class today, I was explaining to my second-graders what “enemies” were, in reference to dogs vs. cats vs. mice. They kept thinking that it meant a bad person. I picked a war analogy, how there was a red side and a blue side, and the blue people don’t like the red people and the red people don’t like the blue people. That didn’t mean they were bad people, they just didn’t like each other so that made them enemies.
Then Joanne raises her hand and goes, “Like in America, the white-faced people don’t like the black-faced people, and the black-faced people don’t like the white-faced people.” I reassured her that it’s not like that anymore. That was a long time ago, but now it’s not like that. She’s eight years old, and she doesn’t even live in America, probably never even been. So where does she get this insight? The media, her peers, her teachers, listening to adults talking? Whatever it is, I’m taken aback because this is not what she’s supposed to be learning. There should be more good stories than the bad.
The other day, during a tutoring session, I was teaching my fifth-grade student about Abraham Lincoln and slavery. He didn’t realize how bad slavery was, to him, it was comparable to the live-in maids that most wealthy families here have. But I quickly corrected him on the differences between servants or domestic workers and slaves. I explained the history of slavery and how long it took for the slaves to earn their freedom and the right to be seen as equals and vote, etc. I told him that human rights should be granted to everyone, and I tried to make him understand why people should not be treated different just because they looked different.
Then I asked him if he knew what human rights America is having problems with right now. He didn’t so I clued him in. I asked him if he thought it was fair if one person loved another person and they wanted to get married, is it ok for everyone else to say that it was not ok? Because back then, a lot of people thought that slavery was ok, so does that mean it was actually ok? And he said that, well they should be free too and do what they want to. But I told him that what if I wanted to kill someone, can I do that? And he paused and thought about it for awhile, and then he goes, “But they’re not hurting anyone.”
It was a profound moment for me because I realized that I possess the power to influence his views and perceptions of the world. I possess the power to make him believe what I believe in by laying out convincing arguments and getting answers that I want. I possess the power to enforce ideals in him that as he grows up, he can see the world as one where everyone belongs.