Students will be able to identify the moral dilemmas of Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra in post-trial Maycomb.
Today we were going to read chapter 24 in class and write a paragraph highlighting our personal reaction to the trial’s verdict. I try to start every class out on a positive note, asking the to tell me three good things that happened to them while I take attendance. While “hunting the good stuff” today, a student announced that he had received an email saying the United States was at War with Islam (apparently this was a good thing to him). I did a double take – what? I asked who this email was from; the student said, “Bob Livingston.” I asked, “Who is Bob Livingston?” The student replied some guy that he subscribed to at some point. He forwarded me the email, and it turns out Mr. Livingston is a self-professed “ultra-conservative American who has been writing a newsletter for 41 years”. So basically just some dude publishing his opinion on the web, not a credible news source. The article in question was an opinion piece about the recent reactions to the anti-Muhammad YouTube video, but my student didn’t actually read the piece, just the subject line.
On a hunch, I asked my class where we were currently at war, since the US can’t be at war with a religion. I heard “Iraq”, “Japan”, and “Mexico.” So I put the lesson plans on hold to pull up a world map to show them where “Afghanistan”, the country we ARE legitimately fighting in, is. I tried to talk (as impartially as possible – I’m not really supposed to have an opinion) about why were there and who we were fighting, when another kid raised his hand and says that all the other countries in the world hate America because we invade other countries and blow up their cities and kill innocent people. Another asked if this was why we bombed Japan – y’know, back in WWII, but the exact decade seemed insignificant compared to the confusion that was mounting in the classroom. Another kid said under his breath so I wouldn’t hear him (he failed), “Terrorists are cool.” This is probably another instance where I should have kicked a kid out of class, but I hate them leaving my class. Instead, I compared a terrorist’s desire to kill because someone is from a certain country or religion or political leaning to Tom Robinson, who was convicted in TKaM because he was black. Were the people that convicted Tom cool? Obviously not. I had to cut off the conversation there, because we did have some stuff we needed to accomplish today, but soon I want to have a lesson on our current relations with the Middle East, which would probably require a lesson in Islam, and quite possibly a lesson in where-we-hear-our-information-is-incredibly-important-and-indicative-of-its-truth. Only the latter is really anywhere close to my year’s curriculum, but they all seem so incredibly important to kids who think everyone hates us because we invade countries to kill innocents. Not that there are not plenty of people who believe that, but I’d rather have my students know as many of the facts before they make their decisions about the world. They’ll be better citizens if they read more than the subject lines in their inbox.
In other news, I am offering extra credit this week for anyone who shows me their personal library card. I’ve had some four students take me up on the offer. Many others admit – proudly – that they’ve never been inside the local public library. I even pulled it up on Google streetview, and one girl goes, “Oh, I know where that is – that’s a library?” The building so largely and clearly declares itself a library that this made me incredibly sad. The rest of the conversation went like this:
Kid A: I don’t go to libraries, I have a life.
Me: Do you know who pays for libraries?
Kid B: Charity?
Me: Tax dollars. Your parents’ tax dollars pay for libraries. Not going to the library that you pay to keep open is like not eating a pizza you’ve already paid for.
Kid C: Pizza is better than books.
Kid D: I have a book from middle school I never returned, so I can’t go back there.
Kid E: My mom says taxes are stupid.
Me: Then you should head to private school, because what else do your tax dollars pay for?
Me: Yes, schools, computers, teacher salaries…
Kid A: You get paid?
I volunteer to teach Sunday School; I get cute little 4-year-olds for 45 minutes; we color and there’s a snack. I’m hoping that the student in question just had an instance of mouth moving faster than brain, and doesn’t genuinely think school staff are volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my students, but yes, I have bills to pay too.