Elisha’s Battle Plan

I promise to fill you in on how I’m finishing Black Music History Units with the kids. Been putting it off for awhile now but I want to share something I learned today.

This evening, I took part in a bible study over Zoom with some people I met through Instagram.  It was nice to meet new people. The topic they focused on was spiritual warfare, what it is, how can we get through it and why it’s important we recognize that it’s a legit thing.

Usually when I think of spiritual warfare I think of the bible passage in Ephesians 6: 10-18. But tonight the leader led us to a different passage I haven’t read yet about Elisha in 2 Kings 6:8-22.

There’s a war happening and the Syrians are preparing an ambush against Israel. Elisha is a prophet who- from what I understand- is like the understudy of Elijah, another prophet before he was taken up to heaven. Elisha is really tight with the King of Israel (KoI) and tells him about the ambush. KoI tells the people and they are ready for them. It doesn’t sound like there was a massive battle when they got there but I think the King of Syria (KoS) really thought he had the KoI duped. So when the village was ready for them, he was so pooped.

So KoS says to his army, “Hey! Which one of you has been tipping off KoI?” And the guys are like, “None of us. Elisha, the prophet, knows what you say in the privacy of your room.”

KoS is super pissed about this and decides to kidnap Elisha. His men find out Elisha is in the city of Dothan and they surround it. Elisha’s servant wakes up the next day to see they are trapped. He’s like, “We’re doomed!!! What are we going to do?!?!?!”

Elisha’s like, “Don’t panic. We’ve got more people on our side than they do on theirs.” The servant didn’t understand so Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes. God did and the servant saw the entire hillside covered with chariots of fire and horses!

The Syrians couldn’t see them either so they began their attack. Elisha prayed God would blind them. He did. Elisha, keeping his identity a secret, says to the blind Syrian army, “You’re going the wrong way. I’ll take you to the man you are looking for. You’re in the wrong city.”

Elisha leads them to Samaria where the King of Israel was. He asks God to open their eyes and find out they were led straight into the hands of their enemy, the Israelites. The king sees them and wants to know if he should kill them. Which, I can’t tell if he’s asking that out of respect for God and Elisha or because he’s hesitant and doesn’t want to kill them. The reason I say that is because Elisha says, “Nah. You couldn’t kill men you captured in battle. Give them some food and drink and let them go back to their king.” So KoI prepares this massive feast, feeds his enemies and sends them home. The Syrians didn’t try raiding Israel again.

There are a couple of things I take away from this story:

1. God is working behind the scenes, even if I’m the servant who can’t see the full picture.

2. Mercy triumphs over hate. You can win a long-standing battle by extending mercy.

3. I admire Elisha’s faith and trust in God. His confidence that God will deliver him and protect him. He wasn’t afraid of what he was facing.

4. You can be merciful but clever and strategic in how you deal with your enemies. Prayer is key in defending against attacks and moving forward to push the intimidation back.

5. Sometimes your enemies are stuck in a bind; it’s their job to do what their king tells them to, too. It doesn’t excuse the sin but it does help humanize them and in turn, empathize and feed them.

What are some of your takeaways?

Conquerable Mountains: Bedtime Thoughts

I remember reading a book by Jon Krakauer called Eiger Dreams. It’s a collection of short stories about mountain climbing. He describes the sport as this addiction. Once you climb one you start planning the next almost immediately. I don’t know if I’d make a good mountain climber but I love, love, love reading stories or watching movies about it. The courage, determination, risk, planning, athleticism, ambition, the life-and-death scenarios, the friendships, and pushing yourself to the limit — everything about it just screams inspiration to me.

This weekend I watched a documentary called “Meru.” It’s about these three mountain climbers: Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, who planned an expedition to the mountain Meru in India. It’s known as one of the hardest mountains to climb. Harder than Mount Everest and no one, not even the best mountain climbers in the world, have been able to reach the top. Like, not even Conrad’s mentors were able to reach the top and they were the best of the best.

Anyway, these guys are determined to get to the top. I won’t give it [all] away but their stories are incredible. The things they’ve survived! On their first trip they were stuck on the side of the mountain in a tent for something like four days because of a storm. Four days stuck in a tent! Can you imagine?! They barely had any food rations left and still wanted to try and get to the top. They were so determined! Even after a major setback that threw them off by four days! They still tried to summit and they were so close but the timing was off. They had to turn around and go back. They were crushed and in really rough shape. Full of frost bite and foot rot.

The documentary goes on to tell more of their story and the things they’ve survived on other expeditions. Renan got a severe head wound from a skiing trip that left him paralyzed. He was so determined to get back to Meru, that he spent all his time and energy into recovery so he could join the next expedition.It seemed like all his odds were stacked against him but he did it. He was strong enough for the second go. Jimmy survived a massive avalanche. No one knew how he survived but he describes this moment where he was fully buried in snow. There was a shift beneath him that seemed to push him closer to the surface and he was able to pull himself out. Not one broken bone. Then Conrad — who’s climbed Everest four times — tells these stories of loss and survivor’s guilt.

One of the things I took away from that movie was how determined they were. Maybe a little stupid but determined and razor-sharp focused on the goal of summitting. Getting to the top. They didn’t let grief or guilt get the better of them. They didn’t live in fear of the next avalanche or brain injury or failure get in the way. They weren’t so traumatized by their bad experiences that it kept them from trying again. They pushed through all the pain of exhaustion, altitude sickness, frostbite and fear to get to the top.

I don’t know what you’re facing but I’ve got a couple mountains that I want to summit. Maybe I’ll get trampled by an avalanche. Maybe I’ll get crushed and die like Conrad’s friends. Or maybe — by some miracle — I’ll survive like Jimmy, and keep climbing. Or maybe I’ll suffer a bad blow that will throw me off my feet for a couple months. But maybe I’ll be able to recover like Renan and keep climbing. And maybe one day, I’ll plan to summit my impossible mountain. Maybe I’ll be prepared this time. Pace myself and plan for the challenge ahead. Stay focused, push through and keep climbing. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally summit my unconquerable mountain.

Mutiny: Black History Month Drama Exercises and Results

Alright. Here’s an update on how the last Black History lesson went with my middle year kids.

The lesson

Review classroom contract We wrote it together in September but I wanted to review it. Two out of the three classrooms didn’t have anything else to add. The other 1/3 did… We were missing a couple of extraverted students that day which allowed some of my other kids to share. The kids of colour were the clearest voice in the room and added more boundaries around racist remarks or comments. This was one of the most rewarding parts of the convo because I could hear where they were at. I was relieved when they shared because then we could pinpoint the problem. Now I’ve got to figure out a solution. We agreed on what would happen if kids didn’t follow the “everyday” rules; three warnings, then I talk to principal/classroom teacher and their parents. However, if it’s a racist remark, I’ll give them one warning and then we bring in the principal, etc.The reason I’m giving them one warning is because the racist statements are very subtle and some of the kids aren’t aware of how their comments are harmful. There have been situations where they were held accountable by other kids in class and that healthy peer pressure seemed to cause a catalyst for change. With that said, some are blatantly rude and disturbing so I may need to make alternate plans entirely for my main offenders…

Black History Month slideshow We talked again about the problem with the resources I brought before and then I showed them this free slide show I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. I can’t find the name of the person who created it but she/he/they shared some Black History in Canada and Saskatchewan. This person’s work is REALLY good and I plan to purchase from them again. Here’s the website: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Sje-With-Saskteaches

Theatre of the Oppressed exercises I did variations of this activity with each of the classes and added extensions to each depending on where the conversation went. Here are the basics:

  • Ask the kids to choose a spot in the class where they feel most comfortable and go to that spot. Ask them why they chose that spot.
  • Then ask them where their least comfortable spot is. Go there and ask them individually, why they chose that spot.
  • From their desks, I ask them to point to the most powerful/influential place in the room. Usually, it’s the teachers desk or the front of the room. A couple of witty kids will point to themselves.
  • Still at their desks, I ask them to point to the weakest place in the room. They like pointing at each other and start giggling so I had to explain it’s weak places, not people.
  • Finally, I ask them where their “true” place is? I don’t define what true means. I let them decide and when they ask me to explain what do I mean by true, I explain that it’s whatever it means to you.

Art journal/Collaboration I ask the kids to do a visual art journal about what just happened. They can do whatever they want OR they can create their own classroom floorplan where power is equal. What would that look like? I adjusted this for other classes so we created the floorplan together on the board. It was way more fun and the kids had interesting ideas.

The following day, we played another game. I don’t remember what this game is actually called but I call it OVERTHROW.


  • You’ll need a small table, two chairs and a plastic bottle (or an empty kleenex box or eraser).
  • GOAL: Through movement of the objects/furniture, show a move of power over the person who moved last.
  • You can only move one object once until your next turn.
  • You cannot move one object and then another and another. Just one move per person per object.
  • Try to NOT break furniture.
  • Examine each move with the class and discuss how each move is a form of power. I usually offer a play-by-play to get the kids started and help them find different forms of it. Often you’ll see forms of resistance/rebellion, tiny passive aggressive movements, apathy (removing certain objects entirely from the scene), solidarity, force/violence, judgement/superiority, among many others.
  • EXTENSION: Make tableaus (human statues) with the same goal. One person begins in a statue of power, the next person comes in to make a tableau that overpowers the last one and so on and so forth. Until you have a full scene of conflict.

Something I forgot to do this time was to chase the tableaus with scenes of UNITY. It’s a nice way to finish off the class rather than leaving in them in this state of competition. Shall try to bring that in next time.


  1. Kids associate power with the size of your desk. When I did this exercise pre-COVID at another school, the kids ran to the couches for places of power. I read that as comfort=power which made sense given the demographic I was working with. For the middle years I worked with this week, power was a bit more materialistic.
  2. One class is a pretty solid as a team and from what I’ve seen, power is pretty evenly spread out. There is conflict, for sure, but each of the kids have a say and they are very open about their culture or differences. White privelege and racism still exists in this class, however, the peer pressure to remove it is strong. The white kids don’t get a way with it for long. There’s high accountability. I was interested to know how their class would rearrange the floor plan if they could. A small mutiny against their teacher (who wasn’t in the room) took place. It was the first mutiny I’ve ever witnessed. The kids drew up plans to put him in the weakest place in the room or to completely remove him. “I’ve never seen this,” I say, “But you can’t just remove the teacher/source of power. He’s a part of your class.” So I told them about King Arthur and the Knights at the round table. One of the kids came up and problem solved by placing the teacher in the middle of the room and building a circle of desks around him. Not in a way were he was centre stage but more so to trap him there. Again, never saw this before and I didn’t fully understand why they were so opposed to their teacher because he advocates for them a lot and looks out for their best interest. I’m assuming that they just had a bad day? I don’t know. It was a bizarre mutiny. Anway, we all agreed that this jail cell of children would not work to hold him captive because he’s a very tall man but I appreciated the creative thought. The final plan was to build a horshoe formation around him/ the front of the room. That seemed to work for the kids.
  3. When we did the tableau with the kids in the same class where the mutiny was taking place, the first tableau involved a lot of violence. I let this play out for awhile because it shows the kids what form of power they default to: force. There was a line of assassins killing eachother. This went on for awhile. We stopped and I pointed out their default for power is violence and they nodded. We began another tableau but this time, I told them they weren’t allowed to use force and I would let them volunteer. Rather than going in a line. One kid began it by rolling up his sleeve and making a fist pointing to the ground. When I asked him if it was a fist, he said, “No. It’s the colour of my skin.” I said, Oh! and almost immediately the scene took off. One kid tried to block him off and take centre so all attention was on him (which totally something this kid would do) but the kids following him chose to make poses of solidarity with the one who began it. They jumped in quick, too. Very little pausing in this one. One of the white girls came in and sat in the teachers chairs (a place we had already declared as one of the most powerful places in the room) and another one elevated herself by sitting on a tall desk. Both watching from the sidelines. Finally, another kid came in and said, “Can I be a journalist?” I said sure. By that point, we a had the beginning of a very tense scene which would be great for improv. Then the teacher came in.
  4. The uniquest idea for a floorplan of equal power goes to the grade 6/7’s. We agreed that the most powerful place in the room was the front, especially by the teacher’s desk. The least powerful place was the back (interestingly, many students chose that area as their most comfortable or “true” place). In order to make both sides equal, they decided to get rid of the lockers at the back and put another whiteboard in it’s place. Then they planned to give the E.A. a desk so that there would be equal accountability on both sides and instruction could occur in both places. It took us awhile to arrive at this point but it was the one that seemed to mutually satisfy the majority of the class.
  5. One of my classes is my biggest challenges in terms of creating a safe place. I suspected prejudice would reveal itself but I wasn’t prepared for the subltely of the racist comments. I can recognize an inappropriate joke about minorities but the subtle responses of privelege or passive aggressive racism is harder for me to catch and name. In the moment, I couldn’t put a finger on what made it so uncomfortable or wrong. After hearing the responses from some BIPOC in the room, it clarified the issues and the harm it’s creating. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take some time over the reading week to plan possible responses or plans of action. The issue gets more complicated when politics are involved. That’s the hard part.
  6. One big thing I learned about teaching Black History or anti-racism/anti-oppression is how carefully you have to introduce trauma to kids. By that I mean, you have to balance it out with messages of empowerment so that kids see both the beauty and the pain of the things black people have endured. To only focus on one side gives a narrow view of the culture and causes more stereotypes– good and bad. Another thing I’m learning is it’s really important to find resources about Black History that have been written by black people. Too many white people have tried to tell black people’s side of the story and our white privelege gets in the way. Black history by black people is VERY helpful.

I could write about this forever. What I charted today is only a fraction of what happened. There were some really rewarding moments that happened out of our conversations. One blog post can only fit so much!

Black History: Semi-Update & Tentative Plan for Tomorrow

I plan on sharing a full update on what I’m doing with my primary kids for Black History month another time. Today’s post will focus on my current plan to create a safe place for kids to create, especially for BIPOC kids. There were a couple problems that came up last week so I want to bring up the problem and try to plan a better way to respond.

PROBLEM #1: Insensitive comments are made about the content. I can’t tell if it’s ignorance, teenage angst, privelege or true hatred for someone who looks different from you.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to start the class off reminding them of the classroom contract we began at the beginning of the year regarding the way we treat each other. I’ll try to gently handle comments that are made out of naivety but squash inappropriate jokes or comments. If that doesn’t work, I’ll douse the angsty ones with a healthy amount of peer pressure by making them aware of the number of people they are affecting in class with their insensitive comments. It worked really well last week because they realized how their responses and behaviours affected people they knew and cared about.

PROBLEM #2: In some of the classes, I only have a handful of black kids and when we talk about the tensions racism brings, I know they feel it. It puts them in a vulnerable situation and in the spotlight that they never asked to be in.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to say this in front of class or if I’ll ask the BIPOC kids to meet me in the hall. On the one hand, I want to talk to them privately so they aren’t put more on the spot than they already are but perhaps they prefer to talk about it with everyone so they don’t feel alone. I don’t know. I’ll have to see how things are tommorrow and get a feel for the room. Anyway, if we talk privately, I’ll ask them how they are doing since last week and how they are feeling in class as we move through black history and conversations on racism. They may not feel comfortable enough to talk about it with me which is fair. I’ll tell them I won’t ask them to contribute information or personal experience unless they want to. But I’m going to continue with this subject even though it’s uncomfortable and I’ll unpack more of the reasons why as we study the unit more. Lastly, I’m still unlearning privelege, and there are times when I have blindspots. Still, the content is important. If I say something insensitive, they are welcome to address it with me if they want to. They don’t have to be my racism thermometer but if they feel offended by something I say, I want them to let me know so I can correct it.

PROBLEM #3: The white kids get these shifty eyes whenever we talk about black people. Every time they say, “black people” or talk about issues affecting black people, they have to look at a black person.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m just going to tell the white kids to stop staring at black people. The black kids in our class know they are black. You don’t need to stare at them to tell them. You’re creeping me out and I’m not even black. Please stop staring.

I’ll try to say it gentler but like seriously, stop staring.

PROBLEM #4: One of the kids is completely obsessed with slavery and cotton fields. Many of the kids think that black history begins and ends in slavery. Slavery is a significant moment but it’s only a part of black history. Not all of it.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I found this powerpoint on Teachers Pay Teachers that discusses Black History and even talks about black history in SK. It’s far more empowering than the units I bought earlier… so I’m going to start there tomorrow. I did it for my grade 4’s and 5’s today and they absorbed a lot. I don’t think one of them talked the whole time. They were into it and that made my day. Hopefully, I can tame the unruly middle year kids with it.

PROBLEM #5: The journal prompts are too complicated. I kept getting them mixed up and confusing the kids further.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to simplify them, focus on technique and see how the kids express themselves POST learning activities (rather than beforehand). Pack them full of knowledge first and see what falls out in the journal activity after.

PROBLEM #6: Any time I’ve done an art journal with middle year kids, I’ve had to report something to the principal. One year, I was going to the principal almost every week to let him know I had another student who was suicidal. Art is helpful in many ways to prevent problems before they happen… This year, I’m seeing some kids navigate where they stand on social issues. Most of them understand that racism is harmful but there are a couple who are bordering the edge of inappropriate and harmful. I can’t tell if they are trying to work out the issue or if they are playing out violence in their mind and indulging in it.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to keep an eye on it. If I need to flag it, I will and talk to the principal about it. We’ll figure out the next steps then.

Tomorrow I’m going to start with the slideshow about black history in Canada and discuss. I want to introduce them to Oscar Peterson with another video but they might be antsy by then. So we’ll play a couple Theatre of the Oppressed drama exercises to get them thinking about power and how it plays out in our class. They’ll sit down to art journal after. They can either choose to respond to the exercises in their own way or I’ll have them draw a class floor plan where power would be equal. They only rule is they can’t use words; only images or pictures. If time, I’ll throw in some more drama games to boost the morale a bit.

The outcomes I plan to hit are CP 6.5, CP 6.11, CP 6.12, CP 7.6, CP 7.10, CP 8.4, CP 8.6 (kind of. Scaffolding into CP8.6 would be a better way to look at it), and CP 8.11.

If that fails, my plan B is to introduce them to Jane Elliot and we’ll watch a documentary about her work on white privelege. Should be good breeding ground for conversation.

Building an Inquiry with Middle Year Students about Black History

I told you I’d tell you how it went today after my Black History Music Appreciation lesson with the middle years. It’s so much easier if I do a list, so I’ll make one list what we did, another about things that went well and another on things I need to work on.


  • Last week we began small art journals. Each week, they receive an art journal prompt inspired by the content we’re studying and the outcome the Gov of Sask requires us to hit. I use the journal as a way to prime the kids for the content before we begin the lesson. By the end of this unit, I want the kids in the following grades to be able to say:
    • I can investigate art-making processes to express ideas about identity and how it is influenced. I can problem solve (Grade 6, Outcomes CP 6.10 & CP 6.12).
    • I can create art that expresses the importance of place. I can manipulate the elements of art, principles of design or symbols to express ideas and communicate visually (Grade 7, CP 7.10 & CP 7.11)
    • I can create visual art that expresses student perspectives on social issues. I can problem solve (Grade 8, CP 8.11 & CP 8.12).
    • I’ll explain more about the visual art prompts in the list of things I want to improve.
  • We read about Bessie Smith in a short summary of her life. Then watched a 10 – minute documentary about her life and discussed it.


  • We had some really good conversation. Our topics and questions ranged from a) who the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) are; b) some of the things they did/do; c)why it’s important to study history, especially black history; d) I asked one of my classes if they noticed any racist tones in the doc we watched (because I did). We looked at why it’s important we look at resources with a critical eye and ear.
  • A student who seemed uninterested in arts ed seems to have come alive with the topic and the challenge of the art prompts. He made a lot of different connections using symbolism and the two of us could speak candidly about racism. Which speaks more of his maturity than it does of my teaching. Culturally we are very different so the fact that we could connect over something like racism that tends to divide people was something I never considered before. But I hope it will continue because I liked the honesty and transparency.
  • I’ll talk more about the visual art prompts in the things I need to improve. There are various problems with them BUT many of the kids jumped into it even though it was an uncomfortable topic and weren’t entirely sure where they were going with the prompt. They explored it without knowing what or where the prompt would lead. The fact that many of them were trying to find connections to the message they were attempting to send is huge. Maybe the art wasn’t super impressive and maybe we fell off the mark on the message we were trying to send but I can see the beginnings of them developing their own voice and the unique way they see the world.


  • I need to create a safe place for BIPOC kids to be able to express themselves. Maybe I never will be able to understand them the way a BIPOC teacher would but I want them to feel safe enough to take a risk, share their thoughts and ideas without worry of backlash. It’s going to take some time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is trust but I hope that at least once this year, there will be a project or a moment where they can say they expressed themselves honestly and vulnerably. I want them to be able to walk away from that project or moment knowing they were heard. It sounds very Dead Poets’ Society but like, legit, I want something good to happen here.
  • So the biggest problem was my art journal prompts. They were too general and I need to bring a bit more structure.
    • The grade 6’s prompt was, ” CP 6.11 – Create a visual pattern that reflects your cultural identity. Use CONTRAST (bold/subtle, rough/smooth, light/dark).” That wasn’t too bad but I think some of them were having a hard time connecting the two together. How do you make a pattern of cultural identity? One of the kids was Norwegian and he thought of Vikings but couldn’t think of anything else. So I said something about him also being Canadian. What are some images that come to mind. “A Viking ship on a sea of maple syrup,” he says. I say, sure but you need to find a way to bring a pattern into that. So he chose to make the ship a pattern and I thought that was a creative choice.
    • The grade 7’s prompt was, “CP 7.11 – Draw a line to separate sides of your page (horizontal, diagonal, vertical). On Side #1 – draw a place that reminds you of the word “exclusion” or “not belonging.” Focus on VALUE (ie. Shading with black and white). On Side #2, draw a place that reminds you of belonging and safety. Focus on COLOURS.” They were getting stuck on images or places that reminded them of exclusion. I told them they didn’t need to tell me the story of where it was or what happened. They could focus on a detail in the place, like the tile or the carpet. The other problem with the prompt is it’s got too much going on. It’s an overwhelming prompt with too much. So I’m going to try this again with them. Everything will be the same except I want them to focus on textures instead of value or colours. Think of a place you felt excluded. Draw the texture of something you saw or felt. Vice versa with side 2, belonging/safe place.
    • The grade 8’s prompt is the longest and the one that needs the most work…

CP 8.12 Pick ONE and answer through visual art:

  1. If racism was a plant what would it look like? What season would it grow in? How would it die?
  2. If racism was a garden, what would it look like? How would the plants be arranged? Who would be the gardener?
  3. If racism was a room, what would it look like? What kind of lighting would it have? Would it be well maintained or falling apart?
  4. If racism/discrimination had a smell, what would it be? How do you draw smell? Show me.
  • The biggest problem is I had kids drawing flowers with smiley faces or clouds that said “BLM” and equating them with racism. One guy named his plant, the Racism Plant, and I’m not sure what to think about it yet but it was a very detailed picture and he put a lot of work into it. I need to work with them so they can build a stronger image. My plan is to show them some plants that are dangerous tomorrow. Not in real life. Just online. And stress the importance of clarifying their message. What are you trying to say about racism with your image? What is working? What could be problematic about it?
  • My intention with the garden and the room prompts was to focus on the mood and arrangement of the plants/objects. How can we show an imbalance of power or exclusion in these settings (ie. garden or room) through mood and imbalance? So I’m going to clarify that tomorrow and show them some pictures that don’t necessarily scream racism at me but do reveal mood and imbalance.
  • The smell one is a tough one. Apparently, it’s one of the hardest senses to write about. That’s what my creative writing prof said. Partly because everybody has so many different preferences on what smells good and what doesn’t. And I have a hard time recalling what smells smell like, too. So that doesn’t help. I only had one girl do it this prompt and she meshed it with the setting of a diner. So I need to dig a little more and figure out what she’s trying to say about her stinky cake or burger in a diner and how it links to racism. I’ll get back to you on that one.
  • I need to figure out how to develop a proper inquiry unit and I need to figure out how to do it if we only have access to my computer. How do we do this without kids falling asleep or getting restless? I don’t know how to do that yet but I’ll get back to you on that.
  • I also need to figure out what to do with kids who ask good questions but aren’t lending to main topic. How do I get them back on track but still encourage curiousity?

Anyway, bedtime. Night, night.

The Beginnings of An Inquiry Unit For Black History Music Appreciation

Once upon a time, I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of months. I was studying screenwriting (not very hard) and did a film internship (not very often). One day I was walking around the city and saw an old man who looked to be homeless with a ragged marionette. But it wasn’t like the marionette that you’d associate with a Vaudeville show, it was like this fuzzy purple giraffe monster who’s fur was clumpy and matted with dirt. Anyway, this old man was doing the best he could to make a couple dollars with his little marionette. His biggest move was to make the marionette jump a little. Not very high. More like a pulse. Bip bop bup bup. I couldn’t tell if he thought this was funny or if he was trying really hard to make revenue with whatever he had on hand.

But you know, I feel like I know this guy a little better now that I’m a first-ish year teacher trying to survive three schools in the middle of a pandemic. We’re both just trying to make a buck with a little bit of engaging content. And no one can tell if our narratives are a comedy or drama. Including the homeless guy and myself. None of us know what is going on.

Allow me to show you what I mean with this dumpster fire of an inquiry lesson.

For the month of February, I wanted find a way to celebrate Black History Month. So I decided to do a unit on Black History Music Appreciation and bought this unit (I mean, “resource”) off of Teacher’s Pay Teachers. Which is completely legal, by the way. You can make some serious moo-lah sharing your ideas to brain dead teachers like myself. So I bought this unit that highlights a bunch of African American blues and jazz singers. And there’s lots of great things about it. Like the kids are learning about black history, they are learning about discrimination and racism and how some of the musicians weren’t treated the same way as white musicians. They are learning how to analyze music and practice listening. We’re also listening to some really good music that doesn’t kill their brain cells and they are coming up with some very interesting questions. I love this because I want to learn how to create more inquiry in class. It’s a great way to engage students and learn research skills. Plus the kids get a say in what they are learning about.

The problem is they are so obsessed with death. Like, any time I introduce a new artist or musician to them — doesn’t matter if they are white or black — they need to know if this person is alive or dead and if they are dead, how? Here’s an example. Today, I gave them an exit slip to begin the inquiry process. The prompt was, “If Scott Joplin was here in this room, what’s one question you’d want to ask him?” And about five people plan on asking him how he died.

One of the grade 2/3’s asked him how to play the recorder. She missed the part about him playing the piano but I was proud of her for not running to stereotypes or death.

Since so many of them wanted to know how he died, I researched it after school. Found out that he died of syphilitic dementia in a mental institution in 1917. He worked in a lot of bars and brothels because other establishments discriminated against him. He was buried in an unmarked grave with three other people. I forget when they gave him a real tombstone but his official obituary came out in 2019. He was the father of ragtime. How do I tell the kids?

Should I tell them? Do I have to tell them? I don’t know. How do I tell a grade 3 what syphillis is? Do I even know what syphillis is? Will parents get mad?

I tried some kid-friendly search engines and asked them “How did Scott Joplin die?” And I’m so happy that very few of them said what he died of. Maybe I’ll be able to get out of this predicament altogether if we just stay on Kiddle and investigate all our question for inquiry there. If we investigate on Google, we’ll get the real answer so as long as I keep them off of Google, we should be safe. But am I doing my job by not telling them that he died of syphillis? Am I keeping them ignorant? They know about residential schools and that’s totally horrific. Is it time to tell them about sexually transmitted diseases? Oh god. What have I done? This was meant to be a celebration of black history, not a rabbit hole of death and epidemiology! I thought Scott Joplin was safe because he’s in MusicPlay with is the most kid-friendly, curriculum-loving music resource in the world!!!! There’s no swear words. Maple Leaf Rag is such a fun song. Why is Joplin’s story so sad????? Ugh. Why MusicPlay, whyyyyyy?

And another thing. In the unit I bought, there’s this one part where a cartooned Ella Fitzgerald takes us on a virtual tour through a slideshow presentation. I as the teacher have to read the prompts she writes. It’s all in first person. On the last slide, Ella tells everybody how she got diabetes and had to have both of her legs amputated.

The kids aren’t going to remember anything except that she died without legs. I can just see it. It’s going to be the highlight of the whole lesson. Seriously, today I tried to explain how dates work on a tombstone and gave myself a tombstone with a timeline of my life to explain how it’s possible to die before your birthday. All because Scott Joplin died and his dates were wonky so we had to figure out EXACTLY how old he was because these grade fours, like, really needed to know. And they weren’t getting it so I had to demonstrate with a timeline of my birth and estimated death.

How did I even get this job?! There must be a real professional around here who can lead this discussion properly.

Regardless, I need to figure out how to lead an inquiry discussion without us going down a rabbithole. I also need to figure out how to have these conversations with kids in a culturally-sensitive way. My goal in talking about black history is not only to learn but to create empathy and inclusion. I’m worried this is causing the opposite effect. I’ll try again tomorrow with some middle year kids and let you know how it goes.

Let’s Talk: A Thankful List

Today is a day where I need to be thankful and write a list down. Not because it’s easy but because it’s necessary.

  1. On Monday, I worked with those kindergarteners I wrote a poem about. We had a good day. It was our first good day in a very long time. It sounds very small but it was a big thing for us.
  2. On Tuesday, the staff and admin at the same school from #1 began to implement a plan to help with various behaviours in that same kindergarten class. I am thankful for this because it was a difficult situation that was dealt with in a professional and sensitive manner. The admin were put in a challenging situation. They stayed firm in their decision and found a way to solve the problem. I didn’t know how it would play out when they first began but they found a way to make it work with what we have. It was well-played and it’s something I admire a lot about their leadership.
  3. I’m thankful to finally have a church to call home. This basically means I’m committing to one church rather than 2 or 5. They are careful not to make it a legalistic thing where we’re serving this number of hours or blah blah blah. From what I understand, it’s a mutual agreement saying I commit to letting you in, holding me accountable, and sticking around even when it’s hard. So basically it’s like a gang but less violence, sex, drugs or money. Just kidding. We’re family. That’s what it means. It’s not about how many hours you serve or how well you read your bible or pray, it’s committing to my faith and living that out in community. I’d really like that. Having a place to belong is so important.
  4. Within ten minutes of service ending on Sunday, one of the grandpas asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said no. “You are a monument of man’s stupidity,” he says. I laughed so hard. That has got to be the best compliment I’ve ever heard. Ever. Anyway, grandpa is trying to set me up with a missionary from India, “He’s tall,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. Someone must’ve told him chicks dig tall guys because he’s really pushing the tall thing. I’m 5’2″ so almost every guy is tall to me. “And nice.” Flips through his phone, “I just need to find his photo…” He’s having a hard time finding it. I tell him we can wait till next week if he wants but he seems very determined. I tell him about the documentary, Meet the Patels, and how he’s exactly like the parents in the movie. Still flipping through his phone, “He’s a comedian.” I nod. This is very surreal. I’ve never had a grandpa try to set me up on a date. “Anyway, you just pray about it,” he says, “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. If not, it’s not. But I’m a matchmaker, you know.” I’m thankful for this because it put a smile on my face.
  5. I’m thankful for vets and antibiotics and probiotics to help with a bad bout of kitty diarrhea. I gave her some cooked chicken and I guess she can’t handle it… so that was on me. But I’m thankful she’s on the mend.
  6. Yesterday, I had a very bad day. And when I say bad, I mean, Mental Breakdown Bad. Hyperventilating Bad. I don’t say that to win your pity but because it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day and I’m trying to be transparent/vulnerable so as to connect with my readers. Or whatever people do when they are trying to open up. Anyway, point is it was a very bad day. A very bad day, indeed. I won’t get into the details but there were a number of things that caused it to deteriorate. That morning my devotion was about being merciful. Jesus’s sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy. In the moment, the only mercy I could grant was to hold my tongue, get through the day and walk away. I don’t know how these situations will end. I will likely just have to push through it, mind my own business and survive till this is over. I’m not particularly thankful for that but I am grateful for reminders to be merciful when I don’t want to be. Maybe things will continue to deteriorate (please, God, no) but even if they do, I know I can get through it because I’ve had to do hard things before. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to maintain some level of professionalism, kindness and peace.

Put Your: A Poem Prompt About Kindergartners

I’m not really a poet but I’m going to try writing a poem about kindergartners. The form will be a mash of song lyrics and a run-on sentence.

if you’re happy and you know it clap your clap your clap your put your finger on your lip on your on your on your put your finger on your lip and your hand on your hip put your put your put your i like books i like cars i have a cat and my mom’s name is darla mine is tina mine is dory i have a dad his name is fred my dog got ran over by a car she died hahahahahahahahahahahahaha look teacher itz poop with playdough oh cristmas tree oh cristmas tree how hmm hm hm hm hm hmmmmmm oh cristmas tree oh cristmas tree hmm hm hm hm hm hmm hmmmmmm ‘j’ starts with with pumpkin i mean pumpkin starts with with ‘j’ i think ‘j’ is for jack-o-lantern yeah that’s what i said if you’re happy and you know it clap your clap your clap your put your finger on your lip on your on your on your put your finger on your lip and your hand on your hip put your put your put your THE ENDZ.