What an AMAZING museum.
Our minds are still reeling with personal thoughts and our own identity politics, along with the incessant thinking that teachers do about every single one of their students and their learning. Our brains are on museum-fire!
Here are few things we are thinking about post-trip.
As adults -- we were reminded yet again the beauty, pain, and necessity of education. We especially loved the quote above. We also felt immensely grateful to be teaching at a (progressive and independent) school where we have autonomy over our curriculum and discussion topics. We feel even more well-equipped (even just taking photos at the museum has given us so many resources and jumping off points). In addition, we feel even more charged to continue educating, re-educating, and unlearning with our students this year!
The students responded to the museum incredibly well. Being ten and eleven years old, they needed concrete artifacts and connections to confront the reality of slavery (and historical oppression) instead of thinking of it as a distant, past event in history. Our students found learning about ships used to transport enslaved Africans really powerful.
One student shared how one ship only arrived with only one person still alive (out of 171). He added that the conditions on the ships were terrible and Africans weren’t “being treated like people.” Another student noticed that some ships that carried slaves had names like Happy or Innocent, which really seemed like the wrong name to her, but it makes you think about perspective and how maybe what they were doing didn't seem that bad to them at the time. Our students really benefited from visiting a museum with a different perspective. One child mentioned that he often hears one narrative about Jackie Robinson, but at the museum he heard a totally different perspective about how the Negro leagues were deprived of their best players and took away some heroes from African American communities. This is, of course, a pattern we see in many avenues in our society.
For example, as adults, we see it admissions and employment and we love that they are starting to think about the complexity of a dynamic like this, in which accepting a few "model minorities" is a method of quieting the rest of that demographic and reinforcing the American Dream. Those few exceptional people who have 'made it' (ie a role model like Jackie Robinson) can now turn around to their own people and say (along with the rest of the system) "work harder and you can achieve this, too!" narrative. We won't necessarily take it there with our students, but we love that they could hear this idea explicitly at a MUSEUM!
Our students also have brains that are on museum-fire:
“I used to think that African American history was small and was mostly about being slaves. But now I’m thinking that their history is a big part in our society because they aren’t just slaves, or free, they are people and they had their own society.”
“My favorite part was learning history, even though it made me sad/upset. We can't pretend bad times didn't exist because they did and this museum made me more aware.”
We were a little apprehensive about whether or not this museum would be too much for our students. However, just as the incredible Ida B. Wells says, "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." We feel so incredibly grateful to work as being educators (and in turn, lifelong learners), and we found ourselves especially appreciative to be educating students in this city at this time. This museum is not only a labor of our entrenched American history but it also serves as a beacon to our students to learn many truths and remind them that they can be our lights towards a more pluralistic society.
Lingering Wonderings/ Moving Forward...
Now is the time. Now is the time to call the timeout in a classroom conversation to discuss an interaction that seemed intertwined with nuances about race. Now is the time talk with our students about how complicated some pieces of this conversation are… and how clear some others are, to share with them explicitly what a movement like Black Lives Matter is all about and how it came to be.
As teachers, it is our job to move a schedule forward, meet curriculum deadlines, do that thing called grading.. It never feels like the 'right' time when we are in it. Nevertheless, our students (and kids) are not going to get any better about conversing about these integral issues.. Without practice. And quite frankly, neither are we.
So here's to all you brave conversationalists out there 'leaning in' (is that still trendy to say?) and taking on conversations that feel nerve-wracking, painful, and confusing. As we tell the students, conversations in which you have a lot of feelings are incredible things as that usually means you care and/or you are speaking your truth.
Let's get to it and keep on keepin' on! And if you get a chance, check out the NMAAHC!