Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Teach, Rinse, Repeat

My children are 2, 5, 7, 11 and 12 years old.

I’m tired.

I realize it might sound kind of dumb, but sometimes I forget that I have to teach my younger kids things that I’ve already taught my older kids. I’m talking anywhere from basic things like colors (“Oh right, the two year old doesn’t automatically know what yellow means. Must remember to work on that”) all the way up to the beliefs that I hold dear.

For example, last fall my first grader came home from school full of information for us about how Christopher Columbus sailed here and discovered America! Groan. Really? Where did this kid come from? Doesn’t he know our family doesn’t buy in to that bullshit?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I know I don’t remember to bring up these kinds of issues enough now that I’m busy with five kids and life in general. I feel like I used to talk about things so much more when there were just two children. Then again, even then, my kids needed to have multiple discussions for learning to really happen. For example, when my now-11 year old son first started getting interested in guns, I made sure to frequently talk about what to do if he was ever at a friend’s house and the friend wanted to show him a real gun.

I suppose too long had passed since we had discussed it so I decided to ask him one day what he would do in that situation.

“Well,” he thoughtfully replied, “I probably would say, well my mom really doesn’t like that kind of thing . . .”

But before I could pat myself on the back for a job well done, he continued, “so let’s look for just a minute.”

Another time when E was a baby, my biological Caucasian children would dress him up and make declarations like, “He has to be the Green Lantern because he has brown skin!” and “We’re jungle animals, E has to be the monkey!”

I explained to them that E could be any pretend character or animal he wanted to be and that they couldn’t force him to be a particular one based on his skin color (especially as he got older and would speak up for himself). I also taught them that historically it’s been extremely hurtful for African Americans to be compared to monkeys so we must be careful to never, ever do it.

They seemed to understand because they stopped. Of course, that is, until our caseworker stopped by for a visit and we all sat outside while the kids played. G yelled, “E is the monkey because he has brown skin!”

Did I mention the caseworker was also African American?

I thought I was going to die.

Luckily she was a little hard of hearing so didn’t catch that one but I can assure you there were many follow-up conversations at our house.

The point is, I do know that I have to bring the same topic up many times with my children for them to truly learn and remember. So I really shouldn’t have been shocked that E believed Columbus discovered America.

But then a remarkable thing happened. My older son G . . . the same one that said he’d look at a gun for just a minute and who called his African American brother a monkey . . . spoke up.

“That is totally not true,” he said, “there were like, thousands of Native Americans living here before Columbus got here. You can’t say you DISCOVERED a place if there were thousands of people already living there.”

I guess that was a topic I did bring up enough for it to sink in, at least for the older kids!  And on that day Mama learned a lesson: how important older siblings are as teachers for the younger ones. This time, I did go ahead and pat myself on the back. And G’s back too.


  1. Moving beyond Leif Ericson, and the fact this country was inhabited by Native Americans far before the Europeans wreaked havoc on its shores.. not only did Christopher Columbus NOT discover America, he never even stepped a foot on its soil. He only made it as far as Hispaniola where set about eating all the dogs and acting like a complete barbaric ass. What a supreme jerk.

    I got Kaleb Howard Zinn's "A Young People's History of the United States". We like to keep pace with his school teachings by cross checking all his lessons.

  2. Smart purchase. Just checked volume 1 & 2 out of the library.