“They didn’t see a child. They saw change, and what they thought was being taken from them. They never saw a child.” (Ruby Bridges Interview. Many Rivers to Cross. PBS.org. 8 Jun 2020.)
The New Orleans’ schoolyard often echoed with the joyful laughter of children, but on the morning of November 14, 1960, angry shouts punctuated the air; parents yelled as six-year-old Ruby Bridges, flanked by U.S. Marshals, walked up the steps and entered the doors of the all-white school. Years later, Ruby reflected on those parents’ faces, twisted with rage, and said, “They didn’t see a child.” Sixty years later, our society still struggles with injustice. Many factors could be considered in making a more just society, but, taking a cue from Ruby Bridges, this article will consider how opening up our vision, building perspectives, promotes empathy and engages students in discussions about social change.
Recently I participated in a Smithsonian webinar: How to Discover, Create, and Share in the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and I used this tool to curate artwork, children’s books, Visible Thinking strategies, and videos to create a multimodal classroom guide: Building Perspectives. In using this learning module, educators can immerse students in close looking and in evaluating how art and stories powerfully present viewpoints on race and social justice. Explore the Building Perspectives learning module on the Smithsonian Learning Lab website.
Following is a brief overview of Building Perspectives:
Building Perspectives encourages students to evaluate ways that artists and authors help us to “see the person,” expanding our viewpoints by developing empathy and understanding. Students will explore the following individuals and their contributions to the Civil Rights movement:
- Ruby Bridges
- Rosa Parks
- John Lewis
Objectives: After completing this lesson, students will be better able to
- Examine how artists and photographers reveal their own viewpoints about iconic people and historic events and how artists and photographers influence the viewer’s understanding of those events.
- Look closely at children’s books and explore how both text and image challenge the reader to empathize and expand their viewpoints on race and social justice.
- Implement Visible Thinking strategies to slow down looking and deepen
- Use the Smithsonian Museum’s collection as a gateway to investigating and exploring perspectives of race and social justice.
The resources assembled on this Building Perspectives learning module can be used to promote classroom conversations about tolerance and social justice. In an April 27 NCTE discussion of the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, authors Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi stressed the importance of holding conversations about race in classrooms. Jason Reynolds stated his goal as promoting “racial literacy,” and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi commended teachers in their vocation: “We need to embrace teachers in the same way we are embracing health care providers–teachers are building constructs to aid the intellectual health of our young. It is not impossible for white teachers to have conversations about race.” This recommended reading list, though not comprehensive, may be a beginning as educators consider books that can aid conversations about race in the classroom.
As recent events show, the struggle for social justice has not ended. However, the opportunity for a more just world lies before us as we look more closely at those who have inspired the fight for social justice, both in past history and in recent events. By examining perspectives with eyes of understanding and empathy, we can enter into conversations about race that will open hearts and minds.