Is That Right?
This story begins when I was working in an elementary classroom as a teacher’s aide. The weather was windy by southern Californian standards, but in actuality it was still fairly nice for a fall day. It hadn’t started to rain yet and although fall was ending, the winter chill had not arrived. I am smiling as I type this because we Southern Californians are way too spoiled with our weather. The students were preparing to make their turkey arts and crafts due to Thanksgiving being around the corner. I was helping some of the students with their folding and cutting directions. One student comes up to me and says “How Mr. T!” He puffs out his chest and raises his right hand in a half rainbow motion and stops it as if it were perfectly rehearsed before. I ask him if he meant to ask me how I’m doing. He replied and said “This is how Indians say hello.” The teacher smiled at him and said he was correct. I was shocked. Here I thought we were teaching elementary students about colonial history, when in fact we were making cartoons of colonials and Native Americans working together in peace. I had already figured that many children are ignorant of the difference between Indian and Native American, what the actual relationship between colonials and Natives were, or the lack of significance of drawing a hand turkey and putting googly eyes on it and its relation to the holiday of Thanksgiving, but how could an adult praise and allow children to learn the wrong facts about history. Then I thought about it. Maybe she was protecting children from the harshness of the world. It’s brutal nature such as slaughtering, enslavement, the cloak and dagger and convenience of justifying it with manifest destiny etc. On the other hand this was an educator that was allowing children to learn incorrect term usage, wrong history, and using another adult to serve as an example of making it okay to do towards others in the future. I had to interrupt her and I told the student that Indians are from India and the first people in America were the Native Americans. I left the other negative parts out, but I added that Columbus was scared that the King and Queen would be mad at him for making a mistake and not finding India. By using this same childish story telling technique to make the story happy and nice, I was able to teach the student real history. The teacher was shaken because I do not think that she expected me to correct the student. She said “Mr. Singh’s right.” I don’t think this was a bad teacher. I don’t think that other educators, parents, or people who do this are intentionally lying to students. I think that many people are too afraid of telling young children the truth about life. While I see why they do this, I do not think it is healthy for children to grow up with these fake tales, only to be taken back once they realize the truth. Sometimes they may not even see reason because of growing up this way. In these scenarios I am worried about people teaching children in these ways. If people are too afraid of harming a child’s fragile and innocent mind, then why not consider using the same romantic stories, but put in the real events intertwined with the children’s story plot lines? Their innocence can remain intact, but their minds would grow with knowledge as well.
I am reminded of this story because I had just watched JJ Kapur’s winning speech from the Original Oratory Tournament of Champions. He spoke about the disconnect between story-telling and real life. While I related to him completely because he and I have a shared culture, race, and ideology, I liked that he used an example of a revered Indian. He used Gandhi as an example to show how the history books glorify Gandhi as a saint, although Gandhi he wasn’t just an influential leader; he sexually assaulted women, supported anti-blackness, and didn’t care about the lowest level of the socio-economic class, the untouchables. Being able to critic issues that are going on sometimes irk people who are on the opposite spectrum of conversation, but Kapur shows how prevalent this issue is by using an example from our own community. He ended up winning first place and I teared up because his story of growing up during the terror attacks, the fear of being targeted by your own classmates or community, but it got me the most that he was so taken back from that announcement of second place going to another contestant. That first place made me happy because it really felt that people were hearing this issue and agreeing that it needs to change. I’m going stop writing before I go off on more tangents. Keep dancing everyone. You can see Kapur’s speech on the link below.
P.S. I would like to think that I am growing less ignorant each day. I’m happy that I know a little more about myself and cultural sensitivity. Here are some pictures from college. It’s interesting to see things like this happen when people grow up in these environments where history and social studies are taught through cartoons and 1980's and 1990's Disney movies.