Give Them Choices

When given an opportunity to select topics for projects, my children know that they are free to choose their own. There's only one catch: the topic needs to be Black.

Okay, maybe they aren't free to choose. 

Why limit them? Because they need to know our history. Their history. Period. And I'm not going to leave it to others to make sure they are self-aware.

Over the years, the girls have submitted projects on Bessie Coleman, Wilma Rudolph, Barack Obama and Gabby Douglas. They've researched places like Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Then there was this year's 5th grade bottle project. The assignment was to use a 2-liter bottle to create an image and write a one-page report telling why the selected person is a leader.

When Morgan came home with this assignment, my mind immediately went to work with suggestions: Madame C.J. Walker, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X ...

But she had another idea. "I know you want me to do somebody Black, but I really want to do ... Donald Trump," she said.

Okaaaaay. What do I say? I'm a teacher. We teachers are all about letting students choose. I firmly believe that students are more vested in their learning when they are studying something they are interested in, something they care about. But Donald Trump? Really?

"Go for it, sweetie!"
"But he's not Black. Is that okay?"
"Of course it is," I said, already wondering how I was going to break this news to my husband.

Let me pause here and note that I am not the most political person. I've always been rather non-confrontational, so I pretty much avoid situations that will get me all worked about about politics. When these discussions come up at gatherings, I'm usually the one mixing up drinks or observing from the kitchen. My husband and I both are registered independents (or at least he was last time I checked). So my daughters aren't growing up in a politically fanatical household. We simply like to "keep it real" when it comes to issues that concern African Americans.

Dad's initial reaction was this: "Why?" Then he went on to drill me about whether I had questioned her sufficiently about her intentions. "If she's going to choose him, she needs to be able to explain why."

Her reasoning was simple: "He's funny."

So maybe this will be a learning opportunity. Perhaps she'll discover that a candidate needs to be more than "funny" to run a country. In the days that followed, she did ask about "the wall" and seemed more in tune to what was going on in the primaries.

We spend a few bucks in Michael's (I get a teacher discount there!) purchasing materials for the bottle person: fabric for Trump's suit and yellow yarn for his hair. In a craft box in the basement, we found adhesive eyes, clay for Trump's nose and lips, buttons for his suit, and pipe cleaners for his arms. I reminded Morgan that this project was "all on her." Armed with a glue gun, she went to work, transforming a bottle of Dr. Pepper into The Donald.

I was impressed with the end result. But what surprised me was the response at school. On the night of the Enrichment Fair, where projects were displayed, Donald Trump was the second most popular project. (The first was a candy machine built by a fourth grader.) There was an actual line to see him.

I stood back and watched for a few minutes and heard kids saying, "Mom, you have to see Donald Trump!" One Latina classmate said to her mom, "This is Morgan's project. It's Donald Trump. But she's not a racist." Too funny!

Leaving the building that evening, a teacher asked if she could borrow the project. "We're planning to make an end-of-year video for the staff," she explained. The principal, standing nearby, chimed in saying, "Yes. And I would love to show it to my children."

I offered to let them keep Trump, but they returned the project on the last day of school.

I learned a big lesson from this project. I need to remember to step out of the way and give my kids choices. They will learn. And so will I.


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  2. My email is By the way, great article!

  3. My email is By the way, great article!


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