Sometimes, you aren’t ready for the lesson when you first see it.
For the past two years, I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird with my students as a gateway to discuss racial identity and injustice. Thanks to Facing History’s excellent “Teaching Mockingbird” curriculum, we’re able to have a pretty thoughtful discussion about identity and bias throughout the book (some assignments we use are here).
At the end, I have always made the connection between the trial in the novel and the Massie affair, reading an article written by David Stannard, a local professor who went on to write an excellent book about the trial as well. The racially charged case happened in Honolulu in 1932, and because this true story has local ties (including one of my students last year, who lived in the Massie’s former house!), it helps students connect events and ideas from To Kill a Mockingbird with their lives in Honolulu.
Typically, I’ve used the piece as a way to remind students that the injustices we hear about on the Mainland are equally present here. I’ve used it as a way to peel back false notions of “racial paradise” often associated with the island. I use it to remind them that they must stay vigilant and that these struggles are problematic even now.
After such an, admittedly, difficult year, I truly grasped Stannard’s viewpoint at the end of the piece:
”... little attention has been paid to those who behaved well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And yet it is with them—a true racial and ethnic cross-section of Hawai’i then and now -- that the valuable lessons of the Massie case reside.” He then goes on to describe the group of ordinary yet extraordinary men and women who stood up in the face of political pressure and outright rage to do the right thing.
It is easy, sometimes, to get caught up in the darkness of the world. There is plenty of it, and we need to acknowledge its existence without question. Still, this upcoming year, I am hoping to provide my students with more role models and positive figures who have stood up against injustice. It is essential that, when we share the problem with students, we also take time to honor and draw inspiration and lessons from those who have done this work before us. Truth and hope need each other to truly make change. Now is a time for heroes, and we need to make sure that for all the struggles we show our students, we give them the models of excellence they need to take heroic actions as well.
This year was rough. Many of us have a few weeks to rest and recharge. I hope, with this time, we do what we need face 2017 not just with a fire in our bellies, but joy in our hearts. The work we do with our students is part of a legacy—both honoring the legacy that came before us and continuing one with our work as well.
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.