Wednesday, June 23, 2010

an Inauguration Interrogation

January 23, 2009 "What if he gets shot on his way to the podium?" "How much do you think the secret service guys get paid?" "What if you are there and you have to go to the bathroom?" "What if Bush gets shot RIGHT NOW?" "What's that on Aretha's head?" All morning they have been peppering me with questions as we watch CNN. Our inauguration party has consisted of Presidential Bingo, word searches, and sprinkled donuts. "It's stupid--to stand out in the cold for this," one snaps. "Ms. Templeton, why is this such a big deal?" The sentence burns through my brain. We have just finished studying the Civil Rights Movement. We have read books this year dealing with themes of racism and discrimination. Many of them are multi-racial, including the kid who asked the question. I know many of the freezing observers have experience these themes much more vividly than myself, an affluent white girl who grew up watching The Cosbys and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Our collective history is disappearing before my eyes; changing, and I want them to experience this deeper than having a new square on their Bingo card. All morning i've been alternately watching the TV screen and anxiously processing their reactions. I must say they appear enraptured by Obama's speech. They are eagerly taken with the promises he is making, and they fall in love with the picture of America he paints. For a few brief minutes, it appears he is talking directly TO THEM. And, my God, the youthful innocence burns brightly in their eyes! These kids who cannot imagine being banned from a restaurant or sitting at the back of the bus. (These are kids who, for the most part, have refused to get on the bus in the first place. Many actively reject the educational opportunities their ancestors could only dream of.) My goal is to impart the collective wisdom and shared knowledge of our history. I want them to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. This idea floats in my brain and I struggle to formulate an answer to the horrific question just posed.Usually this is the point where I would dissect on a long tangent explaining the creation of our government and the importance of the Constitution. I would hastily attempt to make these truths evident to them, and eventually segway into the historic nature of this day in terms of the progress our society has made. (This is the same point, also, where many students would roll their eyes and find their word searches suddenly appealing.)Certainly we have gone over Jim Crow laws, MLK, Rosa Parks, and Brown v. Board of Education. How do i make it real for these little bodies trapped in these integrated seats? Yesterday to today? How do i get them to connect there to here? I furrow my brow unintentionally and take a deep breath, briefly entranced by Obama's rhetoric. Before I can say anything, a classmate turns to his seemingly apathetic peer, chomps on his sugary glazed donut and says, "Dude, because it is." Anticipating my sermon, Mr. Apathy turns toward me, ready to hear me spout about the crucial nature of this moment. My eyes stay locked on the TV, my inability to turn away trumps looking him in the eye. "I couldn't have said it better," I reply, "Because it is."

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