*Sign up a child for spring 2014 sessions of the book club now*
Jacob’s Reflection on the C is for Civil Rights Book Club
Police, & jails came up as subjects at the very first session. During the snack break, a couple kids started collaborating on a drawing. My personal experience with one of the kids is that every time he’s given the chance to draw there’s complex systems at work in his drawings — often cops, guns, fast cars, police stations, helicopters, etc. So I was already interested in discussing what he was dealing with in his drawings. He told me about how the cops were after some people who were bad. I tried to ask “why are they bad?”, but the conversation ended abruptly. The kids around noticed the uncomfortable silence and Stefon, an 8 year old assistant teacher, quickly changed the subject.
Of course, it’s possible that no matter how I responded that it was not the time, place or I was not the person to engage in such a conversation. Though I saw this as an opportunity to reflect on deeply ingrained roles as part of ongoing practice to be reexamined again when possible. I write some of my reflections here.
My initial thought while reflecting was that if I was open to relating as a cohort instead of an authority figure this might open up dialogue instead of shutting it down. Though I am not a peer and my adulthood now effects the very reasons I am coming to the situation. What I believe happened is while I was trying to be a teacher and ask critical questions I ended up alienating him from further conversation. It’s possible my critical questions inadvertently left him with the impression that I was being judgmental when he was simply channeling his experience of the world around him.
What if I talked about my personal experience instead? I encountered the police before and some of my friends were targeted, arrested and imprisoned by police. My personal experience might shine light on experiences often not spotlighted in the media. Though this leaves out the question of race, since I’m white and the kids I was talking to are black. As I mentioned before, it’s possible he was not comfortable sharing with me personally. That is, a white person without a trusted relationship built. This makes me want to step back my role of leadership in the book club and facilitate sharing (though not tokenizing) perhaps by making space for Black and Latino folks currently working on these issues so important to the struggle.
After talking about this instance with people, a friend suggested that I “Be genuine/yourself. Believe your experience is valid while not taking up all the space, which [in and of itself] is modeling. Also, repeat key words or phrases or say “tell me more” because asking questions may be interpreted as trying to assert control over the conversation.” From this, I plan to be more intentional in actively listening to children, modeling the act of critical reflection and, finally, sharing personal stories when appropriate.
Look for an upcoming article in the next issue of AREA Chicago. Due out MARCH 2014
Also, please sign up to volunteer for spring sessions of the book club @ c-isforcivilrights.weebly.com
*Above picture from a week later when we read about Ruby Bridges*
Children show an intuitive and acute understanding and awareness of the power dynamic imbalances built into our society. These imbalances are on all levels of society and make kids dependent on a legal guardian or two without necessary community support, on experts and authority figures they aren’t allowed to disagree with, on a school district they don’t control, etc. Meanwhile, those in power are counting the heads of young children and estimating profit (through pharmaceuticals, fast food, toys, privatizing schools, etc.). Thus we need to be proactive to prepare children so they learn ways to fight back inside and outside a system that is failing them. Though this also needs to be sustained learning & part of long term transformation of social relationships. So that is why the C is for Civil Rights book club is replicable, so we can all be a part of a movement that actively centers children and their experiences.