No, we’re not playing the Hokey Pokey (although in my room, that is always a possibility!) Nope, yesterday was a pirate day if ever there was one (see my previous post for a pirate refresher course!) Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my class has been obsessing (in a good way!) over topics like prejudice, segregation, slavery, etc. They can’t get enough of bios on MLK, Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks. But I was unprepared for their reaction to one Ms. Harriet Tubman.
It began when one student asked why African Americans were still slaves in MLK’s time, remembering a previous discussion about the end of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s role in setting them free. So, after reviewing the timeline with them, we revisited the 1800s and read about Harriet and the Underground Railroad. And that led to questions for days. Thought-provoking questions. And, in a moment of inspiration (and all of you teachers out there reading this know EXACTLY what I’m talking about), I came up with a way to illustrate not only the way the Underground Railroad functioned, but to impress upon them how both the slaves and the abolitionists felt as they used it.
To illustrate the point that the Railroad was not a train, but a series of safe houses, “stations,” I labeled each of our tables with a number 1-4, ending in the northernmost corner of our room (which had been conveniently labeled the previous day in a science lesson!). We talked about how some stations were marked so that slaves knew where to go, and about the role of the abolitionist. Then, half the class were abolitionists and half were slaves. When the lights were out, the slaves ran to the first station (because traveling at night was safer, of course). The abolitionists then helped them hide under the desks before morning. Once the lights rose, I played the role of the slave hunter, knocking on the tables and questioning the abolitionists. When I was satisfied no slaves were being harbored, night fell again, and they went on to the next station, until they reached the North.
Freedom. They SCREAMED. As they should.
Of course, it involved running and hiding…and that was the hook. But the discussion afterwards was the true thing of beauty. They shared how they felt as abolitionists, scared and nervous when the slave hunter knocked at their door – so nervous, they stuttered and turned red. They shared how they felt as slaves, cramped and silent and anxious that they’d be found out. And how they felt when they found their freedom.
Absolutely glorious. But not as glorious as today, when my self-professed “history-aholic” came in with a Harriet Tubman head scarf. Yep, it really happened.
See her – in the center with the green bandana? She was THE MOST POPULAR kid in class today, let me tell you! And, did she wear that proudly! Of course, that meant we did the activity again….how could I not?
And THAT’S what it’s all about.
I happened to share it with an administrator (because I could not contain my excitement) and she advised me to take a picture of it and put it in my top desk drawer, creating a “smile file.” A place I can go to remind myself that THAT is what it’s all about.
Here are two more photos…when I look at this MLK bulletin board, I smile too.