Something we all share is the fact that we have a name. Yet each of our names are different and unique. Some of our names derive from our loved ones or hold a special meaning in our cultures. During a workshop with teachers, one participant shared how she was named after her grandmother. To distinguish between their names, they went by Big Jaime and Little Jaime. She teared up as she described how their names have since reversed as her grandmother now has dementia. The roles have reversed and Little Jaime has now become Big Jaime, her grandmother’s caretaker. Others of us are named after special places or even a favorite singer or actor. When sharing about our names in class, one student giggled as she told our class her mom named her after her favorite soap opera star.
Some of us like our names. Others do not. Yet, this likely changes with time and the shifting nature of our identities and understanding as we navigate through the world. Nigerian American actor, Uzo Aduba, from the Orange is the New Black series on Netflix, never liked her name because people had difficulty pronouncing it correctly. When she asked her mom if she could change it, her mom replied that if people could pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they could learn to say Uzoamaka. She now realizes how important her name is and what it represents.
It is important that we honor students’ names and learn to pronounce them correctly. To learn more about ways to learn about each other’s stories, visit My Name, My Identity and take a pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly.
Then read some of the following books with your students and invite them to share the story of their own name!
We recommend that you first model by writing and sharing about your own name. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:
Who selected your name?
How was your name chosen?
Are you named for someone? Some place? Something?
Does your name have a significant meaning?
How do you feel about your name?
Have you ever considered changing your name? Why? Why not? What would it be?
Next Tuesday, November 3, 2020 is the date for elections in the United States. According to a report from NPR “…Americans have already cast a record-breaking 66 million early ballots, putting the 2020 election on track for historic levels of voter turnout.” This is a significant shift compared with the low voter turnout in 2016 (only about 6 in 10 ballots cast).
Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming presidential election (and whether or not we know the outcome on Wednesday) there will be feelings of angst and uncertainty across the country. Teachers and students certainly will not be immune from these feelings and concerns. Self-care and support for students is necessary regardless of the election results.
With relationships as the heartbeat of our work as educators, it is important that we reflect on how we might consider ways to sustain community and a sense of safety during the election. Teaching Tolerance offers four suggestions to prepare for teaching during the election. First, re-establish the values of inclusivity in your classroom. Second, reflect on your identities, positionality and feelings. Next, reaffirm our responsibility to engage these issues. Finally, have plans in place if things go wrong or students need support. To read more click here: Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?. We have also included some resources at the end of the blog post to support your work as you guide students through the election (and beyond).
Voting is a right and a powerful way to have a voice in the democratic system. Although Election Day was first observed in 1845, several groups remained excluded and were not given the right to vote until many years later. It took 75 years before women were granted the right to vote and one hundred and twenty years for the Voting Rights Act to be signed into law giving African Americans the right to vote.
We have curated a small collection of books as a reminder of the tremendous privilege it is to vote. These titles can introduce students to the history of voting and concepts such as the electoral process.
This recently released biography of vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris tells the story of a young daughter of immigrants who grows up to advocate for the rights of all. The reader is introduced to Kamala as a young girl and follow her story and her accomplishments through college and her career right up to being invited to be the vice presidential nominee.
When Grace learns that the United States has not yet had a female president, she is inspired to become the first female president. Her teacher suggests an election at the school. Grace campaigns against Thomas, a fellow classmate. They each make compelling speeches and promises to their peers in an attempt to win votes. The election is a nail-biter and teaches the reader about the electoral college through the story. The author’s note in the back of the book provides additional helpful information about the electoral system.
Life is hard on Farmer Brown’s farm. Duck did not like to do chores and questions why Farmer Brown is in charge. He decides to campaign to replace Farmer Brown. The animals registered to vote and cast their ballots resulting in a win for Duck. Duck soon realized that running a farm was hard work so he sets out to run for governor and won. However, he soon learned running a state was hard work. So Duck successfully ran for president. Yet, he quickly learned that being president was also hard work. He returned to the farm to write his autobiography. This text follows a predictable pattern and highlights the importance of conveying meaning in print as the animals who cannot communicate verbally beyond animal sounds rely on reading the signs to empower them to vote.
Bessie who is not allowed to go with her father and brothers on a hike because it is too strenuous for girls soon learns that there are many things girls are not allow to do in the late 1800’s. Bessie’s aunt, Mary McHenry Keith, introduces her to Susan B. Anthony and invites her to attend a rally in San Francisco for women’s rights. Inspired by the rally Bessie joins her mother and aunt in a march led by Susan B. Anthony. Though the 1896 campaign did not result in the right for women to vote Bessie and her family were undaunted and continued their efforts. The author’s note reveals this story is based on a real girl named Bessie Keith Pond. In addition there is a profile of Susan B. Anthony, a timeline of progress toward women’s right to vote from 1787 through 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The book also includes a list of further resources for young readers.
In April 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set off in a little yellow car to drive around America. Their journey took them “ten thousand bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles–facing danger and adventure all alone…” Their mission was to rally for women’s rights. Their rallying cry, “Votes for women!” was heard across the country. In September, 1916, the two women returned to New York City. They traveled through a blizzard, mud and flooded creeks, across the desert, through small towns and cities to inspire support for women’s rights. There are three pages of detailed background on the time period, the newness of the automobile and the fascination generated by the little yellow car, and the long struggle to win the right for women to vote in America. There is also a list of resources for further reading.
Thembi stays with her one-hundred-year-old Gogo (grandmother) after school until her parents are able to leave work. Although Gogo is very old and rarely leaves the house anymore she has vowed to go to the polls to vote in the April 1994 election. Thembi asks her Gogo why it is so important and Gogo explains, “Thembi, black people in South Africa have fought for many years for the right to vote? This is the first time we have had a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last…” Finally arrangements are made to get Gogo to the polls and she casts her ballot in the election that seated Nelson Mandela as president of the country.
Young Simms and his family live in Lamar County and the upcoming election will be the first one African-Americans have been allowed to vote. Each week Papa makes his mark, an X, at the general store when he and Simms pick up their order. Simms wishes his father could sign his name rather than making his mark on documents. Papa sits at the table by candlelight and tries to write his name, “This writing looks like chicken scratch…When I vote…I’m going to write my name to get my ballot.” Before leaving for school the next morning Simms writes his Papa’s name on a piece of paper and leaves it on the table. Papa tries and finally asks for Simms help. Slowly Papa learns to make the letters in his name. On the morning of voting day Papa and a wagon load of men from the community ride into town and Papa proudly signed his name to receive his first ballot.
Lillian walks uphill towards a voting booth. She recalls relatives being sold on the auction block. As she progresses in her walk, Lillian recounts how her great-grandpa was unable to vote because of a poll tax and her Uncle Levi was turned away from voting after being asked such ridiculous questions as “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” After the 19th Amendment is passed, Lillian remembers being chased away by an angry mob after her mother attempts to vote. She details the marches, the beatings, and the tenacity of those who fought for her right to vote. She votes. She has to. It is her right, her duty, her honor as an American.
*Many of these texts including Lillian’s Right to Vote could be used through high school as a catalyst for discussion on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter ID laws, and the 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.
Suggested Follow-up Activities
Brainstorm reasons why people should vote. Then work in groups to create posters, public service announcements, speeches, etc. to encourage registered voters to get out and vote.
Research the Voter ID Laws. Are these “laws” legal? Why or why not? Encourage students to write opinion pieces and engage in debate.
Why do we vote in America? Is it important? Interview up to three people (family members, community members, friends) to ask why it is important that we vote and whether or not they plan to vote in the midterm election and why.
Create a poster, timeline, or infographic detailing the Amendments that led up to our rights to vote. Why is it important (or not) that we vote today? (see the Timeline tool from Read Write Think)
We invite you to share some of your favorite books and resources about voting and teaching during the election. We will compile a list on the blog. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or leave your thoughts and additions in the comments box. Also, please check in on yourself, your loved ones, and your students in the upcoming days and beyond.
Many cities and states in the U.S. have renamed Columbus Day (celebrated on the second Monday in October) as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and many places have made decisions to remove statues of Columbus. The city of Columbus, Ohio (named after Christopher Columbus) will no longer observe Columbus Day as a holiday and plans to remove a statue of Columbus from City Hall. The county will replace the holiday with Juneteenth, the celebration of the abolition of slavery.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 as a way to honor Christopher Columbus’s achievements. Yet, the dark side of Columbus and the inhumane effects of colonization were largely ignored. He did not stake claim to uninhabited land. Indigenous people living on the land when Columbus (and later other colonists) arrived were enslaved, tortured, and murdered. Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas and is a call to reframe history.
The stories of Native people have been omitted or whitewashed in history books. The genocide of Native Americans and the forced removal from their land and stripping of their identities, culture, and language when sent to boarding schools is rarely discussed.
As educators, we make choices everyday. We decide what books to read with our students. We decide whose stories are honored and whose are ignored. We decide what to say and what not to say and how we say it. Sometimes our choices make us complicit in the perpetuation of institutional racism.
So what can we do? We can make intentional decisions to ensure all voices and stories are honored and celebrated. Begin by talking with students about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Ask: “Do you know what is special about today?” Follow students lead and guide them through a discussion to determine what they already know about Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Invite them to share their own questions as a springboard for further inquiry.
As you engage in this work alongside your students, you may consider the following questions as a framework: Whose history has been told? Whose history has been silenced? ignored? or whitewashed? Who benefits as a result? How does that perpetuate inequities and injustice?
Create land acknowledgement statements such as the one created at Furman University where Katie teaches. We (Lester and Katie) both live on the ancestral homelands of the Cherokee people and Katie grew up on the land of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Upstate New York (also known as the Iroquois, the name given by the French colonists and therefore pejorative). Do you know whose land you live on? Do you know whose land your school resides? We invite you to research and learn about the first people of your own land.
You might read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen and discuss how this counternarrative as told by a young Taino child disrupts the dominant story of Christopher Columbus. Or you might view this short video from Adam Ruins Everything.
Additionally, share stories about and written by Indigenous authors, or #OwnVoice texts with your students all year long. Integrate these books into your bookshelves and your regular read alouds. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
Books for Upper Elementary and Middle Grades:
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
This book tells the story of Hannah who moves with her father to the South Dakota prairie in 1880. She makes friends with the indigenous people who lived on the land long before the white settlers arrived. Seen as dangerous savages by most of the townspeople, Hannah befriends them and learns from them. This is an important detail that honors the native people who were negatively portrayed in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series that was the inspiration for Park’s book. This book could lead to conversations around land acknowledgement and students can research which Indigenous tribe first owned the land where their school and homes are located. For instance, we acknowledge that we live on the land once belonging to the Cherokee and the Catawba. Additionally, this book could be a springboard for conversations about marginalized perspectives during the westward expansion. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell
This historical fiction novel is based on real events in the author’s life. It takes place during the 1950s on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s reservation. When the government passed the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 indigenous people were forced to move off reservations. They were told they would receive job training, transportation, a new home, and be assimilated. When faced with this situation, Regina and her family moved to Los Angeles and she becomes “Indian no more” and her life changes instantly. Her new neighborhood has more concrete than grass, new food, new friends, a larger school, and she and her new friends experience racism. Her grandmother (chich) helps her remember stories of her people and memories from the rez. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese
This highly informative book is a must read as you expand your own understanding and knowledge of history and is appropriate for middle grades and young adults.
All across the United States, people celebrate our country’s independence on the fourth of July. Yet, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 did not make everyone free and independent. In fact, it was legal to enslave people for another 86 years until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Even then slavery did not end in the U.S. until June 19, 1865 when slaves in Texas were finally freed, almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Juneteenth, just like July 4th, should be celebrated by all. This day is the unofficial holiday marking the abolition of slavery and freedom for African Americans. The end of legal slavery in The United States of America should be a day celebrated by all people, not just the African American community.
Although slavery was abolished on June 19, 1865, racism did not end. We do not live in a post-racist society as is evident by the ongoing oppression and systemic racism against African Americans in this country. With the most recent killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Amaud Arbery in Georgia our country has seen increased awareness and tensions. While marching in protests and posting on social media is a good start, it is not enough. There is much more work to be done. We must understand the long history of oppression and the rich contributions of African Americans to our country.
To get started, we recommend these children’s books and further reading about Juneteenth and African American history and heritage. Let this be the year that you join in the celebration if you haven’t already!
Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Mazie learns about Juneteenth from her father who encourages her to remember and celebrate.
All is Different Now: Juneteenth, The First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Written in free verse poetry, this book tells the story of a family in Texas who upon learning about their freedom go and celebrate with the community.
Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill
Set in South Carolina in the 1800s, this book tells the story of a slave who was an artist, poet, and potter who conveyed messages of peace and hope in his work.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
This book tells the story of Henry Brown, who literally mails himself in a box to escape slavery and obtain freedom in Philadelphia.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
This beautiful poem is a tribute to the resilience of black life and history in the U.S. The back matter provides powerful historical context and information about many inspiring African Americans.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
Told through the perspective of a 100 year old African American woman, this book tells the rich history and contributions of African Americans through the dark history in the U.S. Beginning with the birth of the nation, the story of African Americans is told chronologically through the Civil Rights Movement.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
This book helps the reader explore issues around race including the history behind it and ways to be an anti-racist through the exploration of social identities, privilege and the power to speak up and take action for social justice.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X Kendi
This powerful middle grades and young adult book explores the history of racism in the United States.
Thanks to Covid-19 we are all quarantined at home and learning to adjust to this new normal. We are aware that this pandemic brings on a variety of challenges from family to family. Thus, this is not a time for a packet of worksheets (whether paper or digital). This is not a time for endless clicking through hyperlinks and tasking of online activities. This is a time when we need to honor Maslow over Bloom. We must first begin by checking in on our children, their families, and our neighbors.
Ask: How are you doing? What do you need?
Consider engaging children in reading (and writing) to make a difference at home. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference: Helping Children to Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we offer a framework to help SELECT books for children to see themselves and others (using Rudine Sims Bishop’s notion of books as mirrors, windows, and doors). We then move children through a collection of intentionally selected books to engage them in rich conversation as they CONNECT and REFLECT on how their thinking has changed now that they’ve read the books. From there, children consider ways they can take ACTION to make a difference.
This is more important than ever before! Let’s engage children in meaningful reading experiences to make a difference. Reading to make a difference at home can also move through this framework. Consider the selection of books such as “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Pena. In fact, like many authors, he has taken to social media to connect with his readers and in a recent post he asks readers to consider the line when CJ’s Nana tells him: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
Matt de la Pena asks us to consider: “What is something beautiful that you now see, that you couldn’t see before?”