Friday, March 02, 2007

Copy Machines that Staple

World Music is my favorite lesson plan to teach. I've been altering and changing the same lesson since my freshman year of college. Adding and deleting countries, switching maps, changing versions, adding details--this is all part of my ultimate goal to create a world culture of music in my classroom.

At my last school, the students were mesmerized by this. When I put a to-scale map of the world on the board and pointed to the U.S. they gasped and exclaimed, "Look how small we are! Look how big Africa is!" They asked to take lyric sheets home and worked hard to memorize words in hopes that we could learn dance. They watched my Japan home-video in amazement and kept asking, "Is this China?" We'd look at the map again.

I believe that the school in Lorain was full of compassion. The students saw the teachers, all different cultures and colors, treat students and each other with respect. I hardly ever heard a joke or a poke at someone's appearance by students. Bullying was a problem, but not an all-school dilemma. I wasn't worried that tomorrow might be the day when gang #1 decides to bring their issues with gang #2 to school and allow us all to experience what they call "loyalty." In Lorain, the students yearned for non-English songs and loved looking at the map.

This place is different, and I'm having trouble breaking the barriers, or perhaps, even bridging the gaps. I have students refusing to sing "Mexican crap" and others saying hip-hop is "all trash anyway." I have students yelling at their classmates for speaking Spanish, screaming things like, "Illegal Spanish! Illegal Spanish!"

Then, there is the bullying that stems from all of that. Calling each other fat, gay, and stupid (usually in that order). Starting fights, making threats, and choosing one quiet person to push around every day until that person ultimately snaps and ends up in the office for violently responding to weeks, probably years, of torment.

Suddenly world music has become a difficult lesson for me. The lesson is full of anti. I talk about the origins of Hava Nagila and before I know it, some fourth-grader is off on a rant about how her mama says that "those people" don't believe in Jesus Christ and so she isn't allowed to sing that song. Another says, "I don't sing Mexican crap. My mama says I don't have to sing Mexican crap." Everybody's parents are apparently part of the game. The word "racist" is being thrown around the room like a common insult and I am yelling at them. Yelling that if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked through this door right now he would be so disappointed. Yelling at them telling them that we can divide up into race and see what this classroom would look like without African-Americans, or Mexicans, or European-Americans. I yell about my upbringing and tell them how lucky they should feel that they don't walk into school every day seeing the same color. How lucky they are that they won't go to high schools with people who think poor is not getting a new car every year. And I always come back to King. Sometimes I even want to say that if he weren't dead, the site of this school would kill him. He would die of heartbreak and disappointment. I want to tell them that God would crying, because of them. I never say anything like that, but I want to sometimes.

When I yell, when things get out of hand, I become part of the destruction. I say, "Move!" instead of "Move, please." I find myself speaking louder, without thought. There is no kindness in my voice. I am being as defiant as them. It has become a battle.

I'm in a place where I am dividing blame. It's not a good place, but it's somewhere. I'm dividing it between the teachers and administrators who have let the bullying go on for so long, it's a way of life. I am dividing it between the community that encourages them to call out non-English and torment each other. I'm blaming the government, the school district, President Bush. And myself. I blame it on myself.

Compassion, respect, honesty, character, do we give these things to these kids when the lack thereof is so toxic?


Beth said...

The short answer is......I don't know.

To treat a child with respect who is hurting or insulting another's so hard, because one of the reasons child 1 is insulting child 2 is also because child 1 has not been treated with respect in his/her life. And because the parents teach that if someone hurts you, you have to hurt them back in order to keep your dignity.

It's not your fault, Megan. But that didn't comfort me either when I was trying to bridge these kinds of deeply rooted barriers between students.

Love you, Beth

David Reese said...


I don't know the answers to these questions either, but I know that these are really good questions.


Megan Highfill said...


Bet that have this all figured out in the suburbs.

Or not...since they were always calling me fat. :-P