Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Honor their identities, it is more than just a box of crayons.

Recently, my kindergarten class completed a portion of our IB (International Baccalaureate) Planner called All About Me. The unit focused around student driven inquiry and was guided under the central idea that students can learn more about themselves by learning about other people. A very basic, yet developmentally appropriate concept for this age group. Near the end of the inquiry, which lasted several weeks, the students chose a partner to interview. Each child had their own paper and was to record their partner's eye color, hair color, skin color and an ability that they had. Later they would present it to the larger group. As I circled around the pairs as a silent observer I came upon one very frustrated child who was making a loud proclamation that his crayon was broken. I watched him impatiently and audibly scrub the white crayon on the white paper in the square meant to record his partners skin color. I held back to see if his partner would offer any suggestions. Moments later he said, "No, no, no, you are choosing from the wrong bin, go get the people colors. See, I am not like a white crayon (he stuck out his hand next to the crayon). You are not black like the black crayon either." The child went across the room to obtain one of the people color bins. When he returned the conversation continued. "Oh, you are like this one," said the frustrated partner. He asked me the name of color on the crayon. "This one is called toast," I said. "Okay, toast color, but really I am not toast I am Mexican and Black, but there is no crayon that says Mexican and Black but that one looks just like my hand."

In my classroom the people color crayons are among the favorite items to use. Each table has their own specially assigned bin and there are additional sets of colored pencils always out and available. If you have ever looked at the standard box of 24 crayons used in most classrooms across the country, you will find a black, brown, white and peach colored crayon that millions of children (if they are lucky enough to even have this) must use each day to depict themselves in their stories, illustrations and artworks. However, most don't fall exactly within this color range. Even my own skin falls neither on just quite the white crayon or the peach crayon. Race, of course is more than just color or the way others see your skin, it may not define you as a person, or it may completely define you as a person. What does your box of 24 afford your students?

Note: Crayola makes a set of what they call multi-cultural colors, but I like the people colors in the jumbo crayons and colored pencils from Lakeshorelearning.com

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