Here are a couple of snippets from my week with my students:
(After reading a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr. with my fourth graders)
Amanda: I have a question, Mrs. McCullohs.
Me: Sure, Amanda.
Amanda: Was Dr. King the President?
Me: No, Amanda, he was a very influential leader, but not ever president.
Vanessa: Did the black people have their own president?
Me: No, they were and are American citizens, like everyone else. We all have the same president.
Amanda: So, the U.S. only had white presidents?
(I give them a probing look...but am only greeted with more silence)
Me: So, Barack Obama is our first black president.
Vanessa and Amanda: Whoa!
Me: Where have you guys been these past 3 months??
(Later in the week with another 4th grade group)
Text: Although Dr. King believed in nonviolence his enemies did not. Crosses were burned on his lawn and his house was bombed. Still, he did not give up.
Ahmed: (frantically covering the paragraph with his hands) Uh, oh, Mrs. McCullohs! I'm not allowed to read about this!
Me: What do you mean? No one was hurt.
Ahmed: No, it's against my religion. I can't talk about crosses and stuff.
Me: Ahmed, the book isn't talking about Jesus or telling you what you should believe. I'm not trying to convert you. It's history, Ahmed.
Ahmed: (with a look of relief) Oh...
Me (desired response): According to your own Koran, Ahmed, Jesus was a prophet and is no threat to Islam. Let's get it straight before you start trying to separate religion from culture and culture from history. I'm supposed to read you guys books with Native American spirit quests, African healing rituals, Mohammad's fast of Ramadan and Lon Po's dead ancestors. Don't tell me I can't tell you why a cross was burned on Dr. King's front lawn.
Me (actual response): Let's keep reading.
(Again, with my brilliant fourth graders)
Text: Martin found inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, a leader from India who believed in nonviolence. Even after Martin was arrested, he still preached "love your enemies."
Me: Brief discourse on the history of violence throughout the ages and how radical it was to try to change things without force. I'm getting emotional here, and passionate. Once again, I'm personally awed by Gandhi and Dr. King's respective feats.
Once I'm finished, there's a pause for effect.
Gia: If someone arrested me, they'd wake up the next day unconscious in Cuba.
Me (actual response): Seriously, Gia?
Me (desired response): That's not cute. That's not funny. That doesn't even make sense. I can't wait to take you back to class.