Filling in the Gaps

Photo: I confess that I hold my breath a little bit whenever I see the self-portraits. Will the paper used be white or brown? And every year when I see the brown paper, I feel a little better. I don’t know how The Husband feels… he’s never said anything and I am afraid to ask. I wish there was a lighter brown paper. Perhaps they’d use it. But given the choice between white and brown paper, my boys have consistently used the brown and that really matters to me.

I’m late posting because it was Back to School Night. This is our first year with two new teachers instead of one. We were a little surprised that Ursa Minor didn’t get Ursa Major’s teacher from last year. He was devastated by the news and I admit that I was a bit disappointed, too. This teacher, though, seems to be fine: she gave a lovely presentation and certainly had a lot to show for the 9 days of class she has had with the students. The spacious room was covered with student work. One of the best part about our school is that the walls are just plastered with work of all kinds. Sometimes, strings criss-cross rooms and work is clipped to them. It’s phenomenal. I wish every single kid could experience what my boys are experiencing at this elementary school.

Ursa Major’s class had a little less to show for the 9 days, but I think that’s because we’ve got bigger kids and different work to do. This is the year of multiplication and division, more writing and such. There is a real and actual history curriculum and a bunch of awesome field trips. We’re going to Plymouth this year and the Lowell Mills. And I do mean “we” because getting to go to these places for free is fantastic, even if it means chaperoning a field trip. I actually can’t wait. The kiddos getting their first taste of the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. When the teacher had a moment, I asked the inevitable question: “So, are we talking about slavery this year?”

“No, we’re not,” she answered almost breathlessly. It’s not part of the curriculum for 3rd grade. I’m not sure how you can talk about the American Revolution or the Industrial Revolution without talking about slavery in America, especially in the context of Massachusetts mill towns, which is are intricately connected to the product of the plantation South.

“We’re probably going to have to supplement with [Major] at home, just so you know,” I said. “I’ll give you a heads up as we go along, just so you won’t be surprised if he brings certain ideas up here at school.” (Interpretation from Suburban Speak: “I’ll be going full Black Panther about this at home and encouraging my son to speak up early and often about what he’s learning.”)

I’ll give her credit for not being flustered. “Do what you’ve got to do,” she said. (Interpretation from New Englander Speak: “I am not worried about what you do because it will not effect me in any way and I have no intention of changing anything in anticipation of whatever you think you might be doing.”)

I hope she understands me. I totally understood her.

It is, ultimately, best that I be his first teacher on this. Then again, Lordy, it makes me really angry that it takes so long to introduce this vital history into the suburban curriculum until late into their schooling. Because there is a literal geographic distance between these children and significant numbers of their Black peers, it seems that there is no urgency is having to teach any of their history. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack need to speak about why there is such a geographical divide between the two groups, even though their histories are so deeply intertwined. And how can we talk about Massachusetts history, even Revolutionary War history, without talking about the Black people who were part of it? These kids go to the Paul Revere House but not the African Meeting House. We’re going to have to put a lot of miles on the Blackmobile this school year and next while I try to supplement this history with some field trips of our own.

Don’t feel too bad for me. I knew this was a hazard of sending the boys to school in a district like ours. The teachers are well-meaning and the curriculum comes down from the state. Supplementing in the classroom takes time and effort and training. I can’t expect everyone to put in the extra time to do special things like this. I suppose the thought is “they’ll get more of that stuff when they get to high school.” For my bi-racial kid, of course, that’s a bit too late. And, frankly, it’s going to be frustrating for Major and Minor when there are some shocked classmates who are being introduced to the deep details of true American history for the first time when they are in their teens. I recognize, however, that while this is a glaring gap and significant concern, the boys are still attending excellent schools with solid teachers. It is the strangest thing to write, and I know I’m probably going to get a little pushback from my Dear Readers of Color, but I write this sincerely: I’m really lucky that this is my only problem. As a former teacher, I know that this is a problem I can easily fix.

And it’s a great reminder that I cannot expect the schools, even these schools, to do everything for my two boys. We don’t relinquish control of their life’s curriculum just because they head into a building every day. This, just like everything, is the work.

But for now, more multiplication while I get my schedule and life together. Lord there is just not enough time in the day. I walked into a meeting an hour late today. An hour late. Mortifying. My sterling reputation torn into pieces. The person I was meeting with was very gracious, but it is going to take me a while to live it down.

And you know what I did to further complicate my life?

I put in an application for a dog on Sunday.

See you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Trish says:

    This post raised a million questions for me. 1st – I really need to do some reading on the connections between slavery and the Revolutionary War. 2nd – I wonder if Jewish parents have a similar experience in terms of the Common Core and a history. 3rd – Now I want to look into southern or mid Atlantic state curricula for history. 4th – Are you aware of Royal House in Medford? https://www.missedinhistory.com/videos/royall-house-video.htm

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