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Grandma Wall, Senior Awards Assembly and my Friend, James

Jan 21 2022

I remember in second grade, sitting next to my Grandmother in her rocking chair as we pored over old magazines to find pictures for a scrapbook we were making of' people from around the world'.  I don't know if this was more than a one day project, but I always remembered our product as something akin to a university sociology text book.  I would love to see it now with my adult eyes.  I'm sure it was awful! Grandma Wall was a nice enough lady, but she came of age in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, I picture some of the entries might have included a bowl of rice, with a caption (written in my seven yar old penmanship) sayingsomething like :"This is rice. Chinamen eat it."  While that's more likely the types of entries we made, I prefer imagining it as a brilliant work on world cultures.

I also remember that same year in my second grade classroom, Miss Murphy telling the class that 'show and tell' would no longer be open-ended.  As a class, we would vote on a theme. My hand shot up first to nominate the theme of 'people from other lands'.  I couldn't imagine any seven year old NOT wanting to vote for such a stimulating topic. Besides, my phenomenal contribution to sociologsts everywhere would wow my peers. No other 'show and tell' would ever match mine, and the students would talk about it right through high school graduation.

Soon we were all ducking our heads and raising our hands to vote for the various nominated themes as our teacher read them off.  When the election was over, we all raised our heads to look at the tally of votes on the board.  Mine got exactly one vote: mine!  The winning topic was 'monkeys', which lastd one week, and show and tell abruptly faded away from our weekly schedule. But this is my earliest memory of my love for all things social studies.

Although senior year of high school came and went without any of my classmates ever having the life changing educational experience of learning from my people of other lands scrapbook, I did recieve the senior class Social Studies award.  I doubt I had the highest average in Social Studies for th four years, but I suspect the teachers did notice my love of the topic.  The prize was a $20 gift certificat to a local book store, and I promptly walked there after school and bought "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" a history of the Cambridge folk years. It still has a place on my bookshelf, well worn and read since 1979.

My love of all things cultural lived on after high school. My first teaching job was 1000 miles south of my childhood Vermont home.  I taught school in Summerton, South Carolina, in a middle school that had only one other white teacher, and an all Black student body. I went in a cocky new teacher ready to change the world, but I learned to learn about people by learning from people.

Since then, I have done several intrnational mission projects with my family: Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uganda.  We have also done domestic missions in Kentucky, Boston and Crow Reservation (Montana). In each case I tried to go in assuming I understood nothing, but eager to ask lots of qustions. Each time I learned a lot.

As a teacher, I try to expose my students to as many culturl experiences as are possible in western Maine.  I've taken my Evangelical Christian school students to visit Catholic churches, a Synagogue, and Islamic neighborhoods.  I've brought them to an Indian restaurant where we got to have a Q and A session with the owners, themselves, immigrants from India. Several classes have had the opportunity to witness citizenship cremonies at the Federal Courthouse in Portland. 

And for several years now, I have had my friend, James, come to school during the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  James, a Baptist minister, is the chaplain at the Maine state psychiatric hospital.  He is also a Black man who grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960's and 1970's.  He is also as good a friend as a man could have.  He was back at school this week to talk about Doctor King, what things were like during Jim Crow, and in his Chicago neighborhood, th progress that has been made, and the work that still is needed.  More importantly for his 12-14 year old audience, he talked about how to interact with people who look different than us: don't be afraid to ask questions, don't assume you know more than you do, listen, learn.

As always, James did a great job getting his young audience engaged, and I've heard from some parents that kids went home sharing the experience over the dinner table.  As I walked Jams out to the parking lot, I observed, "Probanby rhe best thing the kids got out of today was seeing two men talking comfortably about race."  James agr

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