Saturday, April 08, 2006

History For Children

I've been thinking lately about children's Bible stories. Does it seem strange to anyone else that we take stories - which often have a lot of grief and scandal - and make them into puppet shows for children? Noah's ark for example - happy smiley pairs of animals with happy smiley bearded Noah. Oh, except it was an attempt to wipe out human evil and start over - almost exterminating the human race. That wouldn't fit very well in a puppet show though, so it's a good thing God promised not to do it again. Lots of death in the parting of the Red Sea, not usually shown in the kids' books. Christmas pageants don't usually talk about Herod slaughtering all the infants of a certain age and ethnicity to try to avoid Jesus being born.

I'm not saying that children should face all these difficult issues at a young age - just that I object to stories being dumbed down, or sort of cartooned down. Bible stories were important for me as a little kid but there's something about just skipping over the unpleasant parts that I think does kids a disservice. They are more complex than we think. (Both the kids and the stories)

There are parts of history taught in school that lend themselves to the same type of selective teaching. Often slavery and the Civil Rights movement is taught just by singing the praises of Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But we don't take time to see if children understand what these people were fighting against. They know that there was slavery, and there were some bad laws, but - without creating despair in kids - isn't there a way to appropriately go deeper into why those situations were so bad and why we admire these people?

The catalyst to this train of thought was this worksheet I found for Black History Month. It's not special - I've seen many like it - but this time when I was looking at it, I just couldn't quite believe it. Help the runaway slave find the safe house in the maze?? The Underground Railroad isn't about doing mazes and worksheets! The kids need to begin to think about how frightening it would be to be a slave choosing to escape and depend on the help of strangers. Or to consider if they really would have helped out as a white person when it was so much easier and safer to look the other way. I don't really think we can appreciate historical heroes without understanding a little of how much courage it took to stand up to injustice.

I haven't fully thought this out, and it's one in the morning, so I don't know if I'm making much sense. I guess, given the kids I work with, I want them to understand how much people sacrificed for them. I want Black History Month to be more powerful - and to be all year long - which I think won't happen if they don't know more about the legacy of unbelievably brave people standing up to unacceptable situations. I want them to be proud of their history, and I don't think runaway slave mazes are going to do it.

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