Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

“For some time now- I think since I was a child- I have been possessed of the desire to put down the stuff of my life.” -Hansberry

It started with this need to understand charts and graphs as a reading exercise. When teachers throw out words like "fact" and "statistic" and "percentage" to students they grab pitchforks and torches and do the unthinkable... begin questioning if Lit class has turned Math.
“That is commonplace impulse, apparently, among persons of massive self-interest.” -Hansberry

I know, man...I know. Don't you go grabbing a pitchfork either. There's method to the madness.
“I shall set down in these pages what shall seem to me to be the truth of my life and essences… which are to be found, first of all, on the Southside of Chicago.” -Hansberry

Teachers all the time talk about Reading Comprehension, but just what does that mean? How many different skills are there associated with reading? Like skinning a cat, yes?
“All travelers to my city should ride the elevated trains that race along the back ways of Chicago.”

So I wanted the kids to read math... so what? Well, first, we needed to fabricate some numbers. So I waited for the rain to stop and took the kids outside to the playground and created this elaborate obstacle course for them to run.
“Life was not a struggle- It was something that one did.” -Hansberry

They had to kick a ball into a soccer goal and make a basket then run 100 meters and cross this swinging rope bridge, navigate this log roll, cross the monkey bars, sprint around the big oak toward the pole climb, ascend/descend, then race toward the tape.
“One drew in all one’s breath and tightened one’s fist…” -Hansberry

Well, you know how that went over... they geeked out completely. Boys threw down the gauntlet and even the girls wrapped bandannas around their heads and got after it. Laughing, falling, muddying and bloodying up their knees... it was awesome to see kids being kids.
“Evenings were spent mainly on back porches…” -Hansberry

I timed it, of course, and brought the numbers back to the chalkboard the next day for kids to sample and write sentences about.
“Daddy would lie on his back, as fathers must, and explain about how men thought the stars above us came to be…” -Hansberry

And of course, we graphed it. This was just the opening... from here we practiced timelines... We had been reading Lorraine Hansberry's autobiography about growing up in the south side of Chicago and I'd been having the kids sketch life they see around their neighborhood, bringing it to class to share. From then we began marking the events in our life on long linear lines... creating memory poems of early childhood events... "Ian, 5 years old, sitting on bicycle handlebars eating an ice cream cone while my dad peddled..." and "Amber, age 7, holding the banjo in my lap, grandfather putting my fingers on the strings."
Just little memories... of course, but that's what makes up our life... these little pockets of keepsakes and mental souvenirs.
"I know nothing of the ‘assurance of kings.’” -Hansberry

I know... how exactly do you get from charts and graphs to muddy rain puddle obstacle courses to poetry timelines...well, get your own classroom and find out.
“My father, like all men, must have known fear.” -Hansberry

I left school that day feeling exhausted, stepping out into the sunshine hearing this music in my head. Knowing for certain that I wasn't the only person dancing.

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