Today was Martin Luther King Jr. day: a holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of a great leader. It’s a good day to reflect. To think on what was, and what is. A good teaching moment. I haven’t really discussed race with the Engineer until this point. He’s five. To him, race means to run, not a demographic. To him, people are just people. He judges people on how they act, not what they look like. It’s a good way to live.
We watched this video about Dr. King today because I wanted the Engineer to learn about Dr. King. It’s a good video, gentle even, that explains Dr. King’s legacy. Part of the video is the narrator reading a children’s book about Dr. King and his childhood. In the story, the child Martin had to stop playing with two of his friends because their parents said to. Because he was black.
After the video, the Engineer asked why the people in the book couldn’t play with their friend. I explained racism (and the video does a great job of that) but he just didn’t understand why people would act like that. I had a really hard time explaining it because I don’t understand it either. Hate for no reason is mind-boggling.
I’ve been mulling this subject over for a while. As I work on the timeline images for the Engineer, I keep stubbing my toes on atrocity after atrocity throughout history. What the Spanish conquistadors did to the South American population. The fact that the first slave ship arrived in North America even before the Pilgrims did. The Native Americans who were wiped out by diseases that Europeans brought. The sorrows that Colonialism inflicted. The tragedies of wars, and the horrors of the Holocaust. How do you explain that to a child?
I can’t. And I’m not. Not fully, at least. Not yet. Not until he’s older.
Creating this timeline has been a delicate dance between ignoring history and presenting it in a child-friendly format. I’m putting in events like the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I’m very careful not to use graphic images. I want him to know the bare bones: time enough for horrible details when he’s older.
To be honest, I have a major problem with a lot of history books over this issue. Many of them give a rosy-viewed snapshot of history and ignore the pesky little details. Humanity has been dealing in atrocity since before words were written down. Genocide isn’t the purview of modern history, and atrocities aren’t limited to far-away places where uncivilized people live. We’re all uncivilized. There’s a very thin layer of humanity covering the horrors that we’re all capable of.
I don’t intend to whitewash history for the Engineer. I will teach him the truth – what people are capable of.
And I want to teach him the wonderful things that people have accomplished. How humanity can rise above the muck and filth we’re mired in and create something wonderful. In search of that goal, our timeline is filled with things like scientific discoveries and quirky inventions. The date of the first Crayola crayons is right up there along with the Louisiana Purchase. Queen Nzinga shares space with William Shakespeare.
It’s an awesome responsibility: knowing that we’re shaping the next generation. I want to make sure that I do my job right. To teach my children to honor, respect, and value everyone no matter what. Homeschooling means I get double the chance to do things right, and I’m glad that I have that opportunity. Even if it means that I get the hard questions and teach the hard lessons.
The hardest thing to teach your child isn’t math: it’s what people are capable of doing to each other.