Posted by: Hannah | 02/28/2013

black & white

It’s Winter Carnival Week at Harry’s school.

Wheee!!!! Let us celebrate winter by doing exactly one outdoor activity (thank you, Harry’s wonderful gym teacher, truly, you deserve a medal or something for making gym class fun) and then spending the rest of the time watching movies and going on needlessly-expensive field trips.

(A school-wide skating party is fun, assuming every single child has both skates AND a proper hockey helmet, because the arena you booked requires every single person on the ice to be wearing one. Yes, the adults, too. Oh, and telling the kids who don’t have gear to “come and cheer on your classmates!” is about the most assholish thing yet – couldn’t those kids stay behind and watch a movie in the gym or something? Anyway…)

A big part – I daresay the major part – of Winter Carnival week are the goddamn dress-up days. Now, when I was in junior high, I LOVED dress-up days. They were fun. They encouraged us to be creative and bust out of our cliques, even for a day. Some people really went all out for their costumes. Same thing in high school. When I was in grade 12 we had “1960s Love & Peace Day” – my mom helped put together my costume, and insisted that I go braless (!!) for true authenticity. Ah, memories. But the point is that in junior high and high school, you’re old enough to put together your own costume or not, as you please.

In elementary school, especially in the lower grades, not so much. I’ve heard other moms on Twitter complaining about this same thing – some teacher cooks up ridiculous dress-up themes, the notice comes home the week before if you’re lucky, and you spend a week digging into the back of the closet and hating Public Education, Peer Pressure, and Merriment, in that order.

These are the themes for this week. See if you can spot the one that isn’t like the others!

Monday – Tropical Day

Tuesday – Canada Day

Wednesday – Sports Day

Thursday – African Liberation Colours Day

Friday – Crazy Hat Day

If you picked Thursday’s head-scratcher, congratulations! You are right there with me, my friends.

I asked Harry about it, in as roundabout a way as I could.

Me – What do you think about the themes?

Harry – Sports Day is going to be GREAT. I’m going to wear all my Blue Jays stuff!

Me – What about the other days?

Harry – Well, I have lots of red clothes. Those will work for Tuesday AND Thursday.

Me – Speaking of Thursday, what can you tell me about, um, African Liberation Colours Day?

Harry – The colours are red, green, and yellow. And it’s African History Month, you know.

***

Yes, I know. I absolutely know. And for the entire month of February, I’ve heard not a peep about black history. Not one. Not as it relates to Nova Scotia, in particular. I don’t presume to call myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could tell him the story of Viola Desmond, for example.

So this morning, as we were buzzing around getting ready for school – Harry wearing a yellow shirt, red hoodie, and green pants – I asked him what he thought “African Liberation” was.

Well.

After some rambling stories that really didn’t make any sense, he said “well, I know about Jackie Robinson!” OK then, let’s hear it! Please!

Harry – “Well, we read a story called “Breaking the Ice“. Um, Jackie had some kids? And they wanted to go skating on the pond. So Jackie walked out onto the ice to test it.”

Me – And that relates to African Liberation Day?….

Harry – I don’t know. I know that white and black had to be segregated. But I don’t know what that means.

So, we talked. I explained as best I could about the practice of keeping slaves (he was horrified); the racism and misguided thinking that spawns it (he was even more horrified); about segregation and the American civil rights movement. (He knew about Rosa Parks as a person & a solitary event, but had no context for it. Also when I mentioned the US Civil War he suddenly piped up “the Blue and the Gray!” but then didn’t seem to know much beyond that. I can’t help but think his education in this area came out of Highlights magazine. Just me?)

Only THEN did we get back around to African Liberation, specifically South Africa and apartheid. He asked lots of good questions and got on the bus wearing red, green, & gold, and a pensive look on his face.

It was a good discussion and he’s a smart kid – I don’t mind explaining things to him in more detail, with proper context so he can understand and synthesize what he’s hearing. I have a certain amount of sympathy for teachers who are asked to teach these complex issues to seven year olds with, I’m guessing, only their own internet research skills to guide them. And I don’t know enough about a lot of it, either. When I was a kid, these issues and parts of our history were NEVER addressed. Anything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on my own, and I am completely aware that I’m looking on all of it from a position of privilege.

Within those bounds, I’m doing my best to fill in the gaps. I understand that’s one of my many jobs as a parent.

But man, I want someone to help me get square with how offended I am that African Liberation has been put on equal footing with wearing a crazy hat.

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Responses

  1. On the plus side, African Liberation Colours Day is so much better than Blackface Day.

    • True. And at least the outdoor activity wasn’t “let’s play Django Unchained!” But still – I’m not wrong to find this horrible on a whole bunch of levels, am I?

      • It’s horrible on many levels starting with Black History Month is meant to focus upon the history of the African diaspora. I’m not sure wearing colours found on flags from the 54 nations in Africa is actually on topic. I’m going to assume the teachers are trying to tick off a box in your province’s social studies learning objective documents and — like you said — their research is Google based, and faulty. Probably the thought process was “Talking about slavery and the undergroud railway and Alphaville is going to open a can of worms. What’s an easier solution…hmm..THEMATIC CLOTHING! It works for Pink Shirt Day, so why not this?!”

        It’s basically putting Black History Month on par with St Patrick’s Day. Now I’m Irish and I do wear green on St Patrick’s Day BUT I don’t pretend that this is teaching my children anything about their heritage.

        • Yup, exactly. (Alphaville notwithstanding, heh.) It is about ticking a box in the curriculum. This keeps happening and I actually feel bad for the teachers, because they have a lot of ground to cover and aren’t getting the resources & support they need to address some of these so-called ‘extras’. It really shows that they are doing the bare minimum, too. For Mi’kmaq History Month, there was no discussion of it in class – instead, the parents’ newsletter said “It’s Mi’kmaq History Month! Please take a few moments to discuss the history of the Mi’Kmaq people, and their contributions to Nova Scotia.” Um. Talk about irresponsible. Considering that I was actually called a “wagon-burner” when I was in elementary school (and no, I’m not Mi’kmaq; I have one great-great-grandmother who was, though) – well, suffice it to say those kids are parents now, and I wouldn’t trust them to be able to give a cogent and unbiased perspective on the Mi’kmaq.

          I understand why education departments want to cover off on so much stuff, but good lord, there needs to be either a practical limit OR more support given. Expecting the teachers to do it all with, as you say, only Google & Wikipedia to help them, is just nuts.

          • OMG. That’s terrible. We have such a rich culture of Natives in the Maritimes and there are so many great resources (or, at least there used to be). We used to get great books from the Museum because of L. I loved them!

      • ALPHAVILLE?! What is wrong with my brain today!? I meant Africville. Though Alphaville — 80s synthetic pop band from Germany — is also a topic that teachers have trouble introducing to young students.

        Sorry.

  2. I’m pretty offended by that, too. Racism and slavery are still current and relevant topics (I know no one wants to hear it, but slavery still exists, even in countries where it isn’t legal, like Canada). Black History month and general awareness deserve a lot more respect. If they’d also had a previous week that was all about Black History, then I wouldn’t mind them following it up with a dress-up day (though, maybe someone who is a minority would still find it offensive?), but to boil it down to just wearing only certain colours for one single day? How is that teaching the kids anything?

    • They have a school-wide assembly today and I’m hoping REALLY HARD that it’s on-topic. That will help a bit, I guess, although yes – I think if I were a minority it would really bother me. Trivializes! That’s the word I was grasping for. Making it a themed dress-up day trivializes a very serious and important discussion. (And yes, we did touch on the fact that slavery still exists, although in very broad terms. Last night we had a long talk about why it’s not safe or advisable to accept gifts or money from adults without clearing it through mom & dad first – that’s a whole ‘nother post – and we had to talk about so many unpleasant things that I’m wearied by the notion of destroying his innocence twice in one week. :p)

      • Yes. I think that’s the perfect word. It’s such a shame. I’m so relieved, for your boys’ sake, that they have parents who care about these things.

  3. That is offensive. I dislike “dress up” days in general unless the dress up day consists of wearing squad colours or something simple like that. But this seems over-the-top offensive, not to mention – five dress up days in a week? WHAT.

    • You and I are on the same page. When Harry got home he told me that today’s assembly was focused on learning about Martin Luther King, Jr.; they also sang the Black National Anthem (did you know there was one? Truth. I googled it) and had presentations from the grade four & five classes about civil rights. Also, the grade primaries taught the school to count to ten in Swahili. So, better – but I still think the dress-up theme was wrong-headed.

      And yes, five dress up days THIS WEEK. The last week of February, yet, when frankly my kids are happy if they have clean socks thanks to Mummy’s annual collapse off the SAD cliff. THANKS SO MUCH, SCHOOL.

  4. Good for you! White parents don’t talk to their kids about race very often, because they find it an incomfortable subject but it is so necessary!

    I’m looking forward to having those conversations with my kids. I’ve been practicing them mentally since I was ten.

    I learned a lot about slavery because I lived in the Caribbean (you want a mind bender, go see the slave huts on the salt flats of Bonaire. They are each smaller than your average tree house and each housed up to TWELVE slaves) and attended an American curriculum school.

    Growing up where I did, I thought racism ended with Rose Parks. When I was thirteen, I actually thought a “let’s end racism” poster at my school in Nova Scotia was a relic from the sixties. I was shocked to find out that it still existed.

  5. You and other commenters have well covered the bone-headedness of the Thursday theme, so instead I comment to say just how much I loathe dress up days. Thankfully either my son is old enough now that they don’t do those kinds of things or his teacher this year (who is great) thinks they also suck and doesn’t do them. Either way, I’m so happy not to be ambushed by some damned dress up day that requires rushing around at the last minute to find something applicable for my son to wear.

    I’m also deeply irritated at school trips etc that obviously exclude kids who either don’t have and/or can’t afford the gear seemingly without giving it a second thought. This is on my mind particularly of late because son’s entire grade does an overnight camping trip in April and we received the list of needed supplies yesterday. Sleeping bags, hiking boots, camping gear, etc. The list specifically says something like “don’t go out and spend a lot of money on supplies, ask your friends or family if you can borrow etc,” but seriously, most of the kids who don’t have and can’t afford this stuff have friends and family who also don’t have and can’t afford this stuff. No provision appears to have been made for kids who are just SOL and unprepared. No mention of scholorship funds or groups that have supplies to borrow. Zip. I can’t imagine how stressful this has to be for some families involved. Total BS. In fact, I feel so fired up, I’m going to take it to our PTA outreach coordinator and see if we can do something about this.

    • YES! That exact sentence was in the notice we got about the skating trip! And we have no family with kids older than ours, our friends either have no kids or kids the same age, and good luck trying to find cheap used skating gear at the exact same time as everyone else in the district is ALSO looking. :p

      It’s especially infuriating because Halifax has a FREE TO USE outdoor skating oval, complete with FREE skate and helmet borrowing service. Apparently our school was banned (?) for some kids being out-of-control on the last trip – this is a rumour I heard. So instead, they go to the rink in the city with the most expensive ice time… no water fountains but bottled water at only $2.25 a bottle… and restrictive helmet regulations. IT’S THE BEST.

      (Ours has a camping trip in grade five – thanks for the heads-up. I’ll bet we have a long list of required equipment, too. As a family we go camping every summer, but still, good to know.)


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