Friday, April 15, 2016

What they offer the world

During a lesson on determining the author's message the fifth graders sat mesmerized, their eyes glued to the smart board, reading along as their teacher read an article about the controversy with the term illegal aliens. They spontaneously gasped, cheered, and booed. The term seemed new to them, and their faces changed as some of them realized this term applied to their grandparents, parents, or themselves.

At the end one boy raised his hand. With a steady voice he quietly explained his frustration, ending with "When you use those words it makes people feel they have nothing to offer the world."

Offer the world. Every one of those children has something to offer the world. Their families have something to offer the world. I'm not sure I've ever heard such a simple yet true reasoning behind not using racist or derogatory terms.

Moments later I pulled my reading group with students from another class who read the same article. One girl, a typically happy, easy going child who has been in the country a year was shaking with anger. I have no idea if the term applies to her or not, but she explained that it would apply to her parents if they came to be with her. I'm not sure the last time she saw her mother and father who are still back in Africa. I can promise you that this girl has something to offer the world. With her desperation to learn everything she can and apply all her new knowledge to every situation around her, she is going to do great things. I'm pretty sure her parents have a lot to offer the world as well.

A map my first grade students made 10 years ago of where they were from.
I hadn't thought much about the term until that moment. I didn't know the Library of Congress had stopped using the term a few weeks ago, and I wasn't aware that the media was making an effort to stop using the term as well. If I am honest it seemed factual - it describes people who are not from here who are in the country illegally. But watching these fifth grade students' faces changed that. Factual or not, as the one boy said, "it makes people feel they have nothing to offer the world." We have some amazing people in this country. I don't care how they got here, but once they are here I'm pretty sure we want them to be their best selves.

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