The case for “free and unfettered” K-9 instruction on topics arising from and related to oppression!

Put simply, it’s time to end needless book banning and bullying.

It’s time to challenge any human that believes they are wiser than the common man, with an attitude of superiority or entitlement.

It’s time to value the lived experience of every person (and animals and nature) that people our planet.

It’s time to end the patriarchy and white supremacy that divides the U.S!

Note to all: Critical Race theory is taught primarily in grad school, not to K-9 students who study ways to end oppression or othering. Those who follow critical race theory rightfully believe–at least in my humble opinion– that racism is BAKED into our systems, most notably public service (allegedly politics), corporate America, and schooling.

Back in the day (2000-2009), I taught compelling units on disinformation and dehumanizing practices to interested students:

  • Third graders read The Giver and learned about the atrocities connected to the Cherokee Trail;
  • Fourth Graders read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,
  • And the fifth grade curriculum was the most challenging; we read The Fourth Man, the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and MLK’s brilliant and somewhat ad hoc, “I Have a Dream” speech.

I also taught students about the Holocaust; see Letters from Prague, 1939-1941, a memoir written by some family friends.

All of these books might have been banned by a hostile, school board, but not in this still progressive, yet primarily white school district, NSSD 112, located in Highland Park, Illinois.

To put my curriculum as a gifted resource teacher in NSSD 112 in context, the students were delighted to dive into these books so they could understand evil and strive to stop it.

Plus, Highland Parkers love to explore, to read, and to discover.

A flashback related to my nearly ten year stint of teaching in that town: some of you may be aware of the fact that in Highland Park, there is a street called Roger Williams. One day, I was meeting with a few gifted third graders and one sharp student posed a question about that street.

Mrs. Stern, my student (hereafter Student 1) wondered,

“Was Roger Williams named after THE ROGER WILLIAMS who was so intent on promoting and insuring religious tolerance?”

Below is what I recall of the conversation:

Student 1 continued: Wasn’t Roger Williams fond–and respectful– of Native Americans, too?

Stern: How might we find out?

Student 2: I don’t think any of the founders of Highland Park are still alive. After all, our school, Ravinia School, is nearly 100 years old.

Stern: Could we try to trace the history? Perhaps contact folks at City Hall?

Well, the students decided to call the folks at City Hall. Put simply, no one at City Hall was aware of any connection between Roger Williams Ave—not the civic leaders we spoke with at City Hall, folks who grew up in Highland Park, and not even grandparents still living in that town.

How did the students question get answered? Some sharp student decided we should reach out to the Highland Park Historical Society; see, https://highlandparkhistory.com/

And boy–did we realize the depth of history. Roger Williams Avenue was in fact named for the founder of Rhode Island and supporter of religious tolerance, the late Roger Williams. A group of Native Americans settled in our town after fleeing unsafe territory to the east of Illinois.

Not only that, I made a personal connection.

My husband’s grandfather’s family was the first Jewish family to settle in Highland Park. So, my husband and I began asking questions of his family, particularly his grandfather, Grandpa Bob Goldberg. Grandpa Bob did remember a few significant connections. He regaled us with stories arising from his roots: “yup, it took me a half day by horseback to travel from Highland Park to Chicago.” According to Grandpa Bob, that’s why Half Day Road in Lake County, IL, is called “Half Day Road.”

And Grandpa Bob also told us where he shopped—“I remember Old Man Fell, he owned a store for necessary goods.” Grandpa Bob didn’t remember whether Old man Fell drove a hard bargain, but according to Greta, his granddaughter (I practiced law with Greta), the late Greta Fell Carl, Old Man Fell was a kind and decent man!

Our inquiry didn’t end with that phone call (or even frustrating attempts to connect with those who participated in the founding of Highland). Instead, my students and I took a field trip to the Highland Park Historical Society. And while we were walking through that small building, I found a picture that appeared identical to one hanging in my in-law’s house. The picture was of Goldberg’s Opera House (remember, Grandpa Bob was a Goldberg). The Goldberg’s got their start in the entertainment business! And funny enough, both of my nieces on that side of the family also are in the entertainment business. Plus, my husband, a finance lawyer, was involved in global finance related to film projects, as well.

As we mark this President’s weekend, I urge you to think about respectful Presidents—not only the obvious—Biden (am a huge fan of “build back better“), Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—yup–think about leaders, dead or alive, in the U.S. and around the world.

In my mind, President Obama ought to be on that list as well!

Who else can I name?

• Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa:

My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates, of truth, and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.

• Or, former Turkish President, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk:
Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savour their

I close—and thus make my case for free expression and respect for all–with a most beautiful depiction of the power of voice and the need to give all a platform for expression. I found this saying on the wall of a CPS school. Read on and take note; let the crucial conversations in the educational community continue!! We can do this!!

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. Maya Angelou, Apr 6, 2015

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