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Every morning, I am greeted at my office by graffiti. I am blessed that the dead rat and ant party has moved elsewhere, but it’s always a little discouraging to be greeted with “F*** Haters!” every morning. I do not like haters, but it looks like I exclaim this every day on my wall for all to see. I do not claim “Da Mob” either, just fo’ the record. Graffiti happens in any middle school, sure, but this particular colorful display has been an unsolved mystery and on the “emergency maintenance list” since last year. Apparently, pre-teens claiming gangs does not constitute an emergency.
Today I saw some new graffiti:


Vote for Obama!

I have seen election politics trickle down* into the classrooms like I’ve never seen before. In a science experiment on growing seeds under different conditions, the 6th graders named one soil “Obama Soil” (sun and water) and one “McCain Soil” (dark and water). I’m not making this up. The teacher did not appoint these names, the kids did. I will withhold my political commentary, but will note that the Obama soil was flourishing, and the McCain soil was withered and dying. *Ahem*

In a 3rd grade elementary classroom, the teacher was talking about making good choices and making bad choices, and how some people use their power for being leaders and some use power for making bad choices. Discussion ensued about when the kids had made good choices to be leaders. A little boy then raised his hand and said, “George Bush makes bad choices!” Another piped in: “He uses his power for making bad choices!” Finally, a little girl raises her hand and earnestly asks, “Can you tell me how people voted for him TWICE? I just don’t get it.” Here, here, sister.

In my 6th grade Girls’ Talent Group today, we played the “String Game” in which one person says something they like, and then tosses the string to another person, until we see a nice web of how we’re all connected, even if we don’t all like exactly the same things. After we all giggled following “Who likes Antonio?!?” one girl said, “Who likes Obama?” and they all squealed, “Me!” and jumped up and down.

No matter your political leanings, you have to admit, it is fascinating to see even our little ones get involved. I wonder where they got these messages from. Teachers? Parents? TV? Bootleg Obama shirts that I see on every street corner, peddling Hope? I just think it is wonderful for my young African American kids to feel that they too could be President someday. I just hope they’d use their power for making good choices.

*Not to be confused with trickle down economics. Our schools are still holding out for that trickle down effect to pay for graffiti abatement and better salaries…

8 thoughts on “Obama Wuz Here

  1. Firstly, the fact that election politics has been brought into a 6th grade classroom, it is absolutely pathetic. These children are young, they hear what there parents are saying and then relate those words to their lives. Naming soil “Obama Soil”, and “McCain Soil” is ridiculous, and the fact that the teacher didn’t stop the children is where the problem lies.

    You supposidly “witholding your political commentary” obviously didnt work since you decided to “note” that the Obama soil was flourishing and the McCain soil was withered and dying. If people actually formulate their opinions of the presidential candidates based on soil, then this country is in worse shape than I even though. *Ahem*

    The 3rd grade elementary classroom teacher, obviously didn’t find it important to make sure that the young, impressionable minds need to realize that there are two candidates, not just one because their parents say so.

    It’s nice to see that lessons are being taught that we are all the same and are all connected although we may differ in opinions and beliefs, but the fact of the matter is, 6th grade children still need direction, and although all the children may have “squealed” showing that they like Obama, it doesn’t mean that the option for those who like McCain shouldn’t have been given. Young children often do not speak up for themselves against the majority for the fear of not fitting in.

    And finally, onto the school graffiti. It seems as though you support the person who decided to VANDALIZE a school. The question is, when this child is found.. who will pay for the work done to cover it up? Will the child be taught any sort of lesson that it is not okay to vandalize things? Or will it just be overlooked like it always is which is the explanation for the rise in juvenile delinquency.

  2. Kaitlyn –
    I respectfully disagree with your opinion that discussing politics in a sixth grade classroom during the time of an election is “pathetic.” In fact I would argue that it is an appropriate venue to use what is culturally relevant to the students in order to spark their interests curriculum-related activities. In addition, Dr. Bell was using the soil experiment as a brief example of the ways in which teachers engage students in dialogue about what is happening around them in relation to what they are being taught in school. She in no way indicated that her example was a complete description of the activity the teacher planned. And while Dr. Bell’s political leanings may be obvious from her post, it is her blog and she has a right to express her opinions just as you do.
    And regarding the graffiti: working in an urban school setting with disaffected youth (most of whom have experienced quite dysfunctional home lives) is an incredibly stressful and draining experience. In order to cope and continue our efforts (which often feel like drops in a bucket) we school staff must often choose our battles. Dr. Bell is not an administrator, she is a psychologist, whose focus is on the interaction between students’ social and emotional functioning and their learning. So in this example she is finding both a silver lining in a discouraging behavior (i.e. graffiti) and taking small pleasure in the fact that students are for once addressing something other than dislike and displeasure.
    I would be interested in hearing more about your background and your perspective. Are you an administrator? A teacher? How do you find ways to cope with often overwhelming negative student behavior? Are there ways that you have found to be successful in involving parents in the joint development of students’ moral and ethical thinking and behavior? How would you have done things differently with the soil experiment to better represent both political parties?
    Thanks to Dr. Bell and to Kaitlyn for sparking such an interesting and provocative discussion.

  3. Regardless of whether of not the particular graffiti was for once something other than dislike or displeasure, the bottom-line is; it is still graffiti. I understand the significance in encouraging children to learn about politics and the United States as a country, but I think that it is the teacher’s job to make sure that the children do understand that there are two sides and two candidates, not just one.

    It in fact is essential to spark an interest in children at a young age so that they actively become involved with politics leading them to make wise decisions when they are of legal voting age. However, as much as sparking this interest should be encouraged in the classroom, it is at home with the child’s parents that it should be taught firstly because of the fact that some teacher’s feel as thought it is not important to stand up for both candidates.

    I am well aware of different ways that teacher’s can incorporate what is going on around the children in classroom activities or lesson plans. I may not have a PH.D. but the fact of the matter is, it is my belief that when the children began naming the soils, it automatically became a teachable moment and a discussion could have occurred about the Presidential candidates. You are correct that the entire class period was not discussed in detail, but judging by the “note” that the Obama soil was flourishing, it meant that nothing was taught but one-sidedness.

    To answer your questions regarding my background, I am currently an Early Childhood Education student (however I have great amount of experience with children of different ages) as well as Pre-Law with a Family Law focus. I would have personally handled the soil activity differently, by possibly joining forces with an English teacher, and creating a lesson plan in conjunction with one another. There are other political parties other than Republican or Democratic. More soil pots should have been created to represent the “other” parties as well, such as the Green Party, or the Independents. Once the Biology section was completed, the English teacher could have created a research project for the student’s to truly gain an understanding of the candidates, thus allowing them to create their own opinions rather than those pushed upon them by parents, teachers, and peers.

  4. I agree with Kaitlyn about being inclusive with the different soils.

    I would have included a Sarah Palin soil: throw a bunch of seeds you’ve never heard of into a dry cup, baselessly insult the other soil, and then pray for plants.

    -Ack

  5. Kaitlyn –
    Best of luck with your studies. Early childhood education can be a fruitful and rewarding career, but lawyering will definitely pay better:) I really like your idea about coordinating with the English teacher for blending science and political lessons.
    I also hope you get a chance to work in a low-income, culturally diverse educational environment, such as the one in which Dr. Bell is employed. Highly motivated, empathetic educators like Dr. Bell are hard to come by in those environments, and she deserves our respect for her commitment to those students that many others are willing to dismiss as juvenile delinquents and lost causes.

  6. Thanks all, for the spirited discussion! Looks like politics does spark interest and critical thinking skills after all. That was my point in this blog entry. If anyone has stepped foot in the urban public schools, they would know that the societal forces working against these kids is mind-blowingly depressing. They have environmental toxins in their communities, gangs, blight, poverty, and in my community, a murder happens at least once every week or so. I arrive at school to find notes like:

    Can you check on Peter? His brother got shot over the weekend.

    I’m worried about Selma. Her father was murdered a year ago and father’s day is approaching.

    Andre may need to see you. There was a drive-by of his house last night.

    So you can understand why I would be excited to see my students instilled with hope and excitement for once. That was the whole point, not that I approve of graffiti and biased lesson plans.

    As a follow up, I did go back and ask a few students why the soil was named as it was, and it was simply a metaphor for competition–two candidates were competing, two hypotheses were competing. Okay, I’ll give you that there should have been an Independent in there too.

    As for the graffiti, it has been washed off. But it will still be there in my heart as a symbol of the excitement in the political process instead of the excitement for claiming the Bloods.

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