The SJCS library is center for exploration of diversity, from the genres we read, the authors we celebrate, to the in-class discussions that are inspired by the learning. This was quite evident this past February, when the library was transformed to reflect some of the best stories, writers, and change makers of the African-American community. From Harriet Tubman to Henry “Box” Brown, and from Arthur Ashe to Jackie Robinson, each grade-level, as was developmentally appropriate, learned about the challenges and celebrations of African-Americans.
Stories of the Underground Railroad sparked conversations about the Civil War and slavery, topics most students knew nothing about. Through the reading of both non-fiction and historical fiction texts, the students learned more about an important time in our nation’s history and had a majority of their questions answered. However, one question I just wasn’t able to answer was why. Why did people support slavery? Why chose Africans to be slaves? I couldn’t answer those questions definitively, but I knew we could definitely discuss them!
The insights given from students made me pause as an educator, because though the students had only really just learned about the subject in detail, they had put some thought into their answers and reasoning. It was only when a fourth grade student made a connection between the hatred of Africans and the later plight of the Jewish people, that I realized we were on to something deeper.
There is a famous quote that says, “Those that don’t learn history, are bound to repeat it.” When I brought this quote to the fourth and fifth graders in regard to African-American studies, it was them who made the parallel connection between what the African-Americans experienced, what the Jewish people experienced, and even what some Muslims are experiencing right now. They then wondered why there wasn’t a Jewish History Month or a Muslim History Month. What then emerged were lively discussions about this new generation of students who wasn’t going to allow history to repeat itself and was going to speak up to support not only African-Americans, but all minorities.
Though a library class is only 30 minutes long, the resources used can ignite not only a passion for reading but a desire to learn and discuss far after the class time is over. Just because February is over doesn’t mean we stop reflecting on, learning about, or respecting African-Americans. Each day is an opportunity to learn about something different than what we are used to, make parallel connections to what we know and experience, and use that information to do good in the world. That’s the goal of every educator and it is certainly something resounding through the walls of SJCS.
Beth Schustek, Library and Science Specialist