I was brought to an article on the NPR site about Ezra Jack Keats and his timeless book The Snowy Day. I know the book well and have read it every year to my Kindergarten students. I use it to celebrate winter and also to teach verbs, as the main character Peter experiences snow in many different ways.
Now that The Snowy Day is turning 50 years old, NPR brings us back to the time when Keats, a white man, was under fire for illustrating the simple book with an African-American boy, Peter. The magic of Ezra Jack Keats' approach to this book isn't everything is says or shows. It isn't a depiction of an African-American urban boy. It simply is a depiction of how a child encounters snow and experiences it so closely at a young age. It has nothing to do with his race or his language, but simply that he is a child experiencing something new and he is learning about snow in every which way.
This is how all children learn when we don't interfere, when we don't impose on their experiences with our expectations.
One quote in the article brought me back to my own classroom, "There was a teacher [who] wrote in to Ezra, saying, 'The kids in my class, for the first time, are using brown crayons to draw themselves.' " Pope says. "These are African-American children. Before this, they drew themselves with pink crayons. But now, they can see themselves." I think that many of my students have difficulty seeing how they fit in the larger group this year.
For a long time this year some of my students have been having behavioral problems, usually those students who don't see how they "fit into the fold." One child is living away from his mother with his grandmother, and doesn't know who is father is. Two others moved into our classroom half-way through the school year. Nearly all of them are the children of immigrants, families who struggle everyday to find ways to fit in to our established society. In a response to behavioral problems and some negativity that has been brewing in our classroom climate, my co-teacher, instructional coach and I are planning a unit on teaching rights, responsibilities, relationships, and respect, basically character education. The very introduction of this unit is teaching the students about themselves, inside and out, through the Kindergarten concepts of similar and different. I hope that the students will see their similarities and celebrate their differences, especially through the creative outlet of art... an artlet, if you will.
I have been using art lessons more frequently as a means for the children to work more freely, yet sociably in a controlled environment. I truly believe that all children (and all people) are born with an innate need to create. I hope this week's self-portrait lesson will give the students a chance to see themselves in their art, and as a part of a greater whole. The students will be finding paper that matches their skin and hair tones, and coloring themselves as they see. It is difficult because students have to draw, cut and glue different pieces of paper. It also gives me a good idea of students' sense of placement and order.
I finish this while riding back home, and as we flip through the radio stations, a gospel song proudly comes on the air and states, "I am what God says I am." I hope that I can teach my students that they all have something they can create and contribute to the group, no matter who they are.