General Chaos

Great Moments in Education: a 5th graders’ Black History Month “Wax Museum”

Last night, as we were driving back from a day at the Smithsonian, I heard laughing from the back seat. Jonah and Zoe were listening to Jonah’s iPod, and he had found a recording I had made of him while driving home from school 4 years ago. I had Paula plug his iPod into the stereo, and we discovered it was a recording of me interviewing him about his experience with his St. Pius X School Black History Month Presentation (MP3 linked-beware of poppy, crappy audio).

Some background: Apparently, rather than taking a bunch of kids from a mostly-affluent, mostly-caucasian Catholic elementary to Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the 5th grade teacher decided to have the students act as the school’s very own “wax museum”. Each of the students was supposed to dress as a particular African-American figure, and stand at their desk in the classroom as students from the other grades filed through. They were then supposed to give a minute presentation when someone pressed their hand with a finger, like they were some animatronic display.

This, as you might imagine, didn’t go very well. One of the students got in trouble for presenting as Ray Charles, and including information on his drug problems. Another (a boy) wanted to be Oprah, but wasn’t allowed to. One student dressed as George Washington Carver brought a basket of peanuts, which visiting students lined up to take (and which triggered an allergic reaction in one student–something that didn’t get reported in this interview). And 8th graders used the exercise as an opportunity to abuse the 5th graders, squeezing their hands hard instead of pressing their “buttons”.

Meanwhile, the 5th grade teacher hung out in the hallway, doing God knows what.

This exercise in insanity lasted more than two hours. When I asked him if he had learned anything, Jonah said, “That I never want to do Black History Month at St. Pius again.”

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