We worked out some details, discussed some ideas, and set a time for this morning. Then, my day got crazy and she went on planning, researching, and emailing me great background information.
And then I started thinking about it. Really thinking. Hubby and I discussed it. We were both slightly reluctant. Did I want to do this? How would my kids react? My kids are sweet, sensitive and compassionate. They are tender-hearted. They love unconditionally. They don't discriminate. They know better. But do they really *get* it?
That's why I didn't call J and tell her I changed my mind. Instead, I went ahead and made discriminatory signs for the bathroom door and the "water fountain" (a.k.a. fridge). We thought of ideas to make the superior kids stand out vs. the inferior kids. I practiced what would be appropriate, decided how far would be *too far* with the kids. And worried.
Before our friends arrived, I decided to give my kiddos some background information. I read MLK's "I have a dream..." speech. We talked about what they knew (through books and movies) about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. They both said they just didn't understand, couldn't figure out why things like skin color could cause such a divide. Again, I worried.
Sunshine is an introvert. She is MY sunshine. She's a sweetheart to the core, but she holds back until she's sure. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She has a precious temperament and is thoughtful and caring. And she's a follower (but we're working on that!).
Belle is an extrovert. She can be shy and reserved, but she makes friends easily just about anywhere she goes. She's sarcastic (huh, where does she get that?) and loves to make people smile. She is exuberant and full of spunk. And she's a leader, she doesn't give in or give up easily.
This morning we let the kids stay in their pajamas til the start of school (this is a common occurrence, but when we have company over they usually get dressed). J's kids showed up in pj's, too (well, her son decided against the pajamas, but her daughter was wearing them).
We had a brief recap, explained a little more to the kids about discrimination and what that means. Then, we told them that everything we were doing today was a game, pretend play, and that we were all just actors. Except the school/learning part. That was really happening.
Then, we told them just as Ms. Elliot told her students in 1968 Iowa, that we learned something about the kids in our class. We told them that curly hair kids are smarter than straight hair kids. They looked confused but quickly figured it out. Then, we told the straight hair kids (my Sunshine and J's 7 yr old) that they had to sit at the kitchen table to do their work. The curly hair kids were allowed to work wherever they felt most comfortable. Both of them said they wanted to sit at the kitchen table with the straight hair kids. We insisted that they choose another spot. With much reluctance, J's 9 year old chose the couch (our coffee table pulls up to a work table) and Belle sat in the recliner. They worked for a while, but it was obvious the "superior" kids felt uncomfortable being fawned over, while the "inferior" kids were feeling just that...inferior. J and I felt so horrible in our roles.
At snack time, the "superior" kids had ice cream cups and were allowed to watch t.v. and chit chat. The "inferior" kids had cheese and crackers at the kitchen table. The kids had more time to do their school work and then we moved to a group activity. The "superior" kids were allowed to answer and ask questions before the "inferior" kids. It was at this point that my Sunshine broke. She did NOT like this and I could see it all over her face. I knew we only had a little while longer and everyone would be equal again. I tried to give her a smile of reassurance across the room. It didn't help, and she was very upset even after we told the kids we were done for the day and sent them out to play on the trampoline.
Sunshine stayed back in the house, locked in the bathroom, upset. Initially, she wouldn't let me in but I insisted. We talked about how she was feeling: "...it's not fair, nobody should talk to kids like that..." "...why would anybody make someone feel bad for something they can't change?" And then I hugged her and reminded her of all the things I have been teaching her forever, things that I never want her to forget: She is beautiful. Beauty comes from within. Nothing about the way any person looks matters. Character, what REALLY matters, is in her heart. And she has a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l heart. And I hugged her some more.
She has fully recovered but will never forget the way she felt. She'll never forget and she'll never discriminate because she knows that it's unjust. And it hurts.
Belle was a "superior" kiddo today. This was a hard role for her, as well. Her BFF was considered "inferior" and Belle wasn't allowed to talk to her, sit with her, play with her. She kept trying to go back to the table, sneak a smile, sit with her friend. She kept saying that she didn't like being treated better than the others, and at one point she physically pulled away from me when I tried to encourage her to go sit in a comfy chair (at which point I had to remind her, out of character, that we were role playing). She was genuinely upset about the situation that I put her in. After the lesson concluded she was fine, no lingering emotions based on being given special treatment. But I know it made an impact, and will even more so when she's labeled "inferior."
Sunshine's journal entry after the lesson today: (written in anger, which I know because she used her "I'M FURIOUS" handwriting)
I felt terrible, like no one cared about me or my education. It was not fun at all. I can imagine what it would have been like for the African Americans in the 1960's. I feel bad for them. I also felt that it was silly to make such a fuss over hair. It made me feel like I should hate myself, that I was not special in any way.
Belle's journal entry after the lesson today:
I felt like I was Miss Popularity. I got everything I wanted. I felt guilty because I got to do my school work in Moma's room. Plus, I got ice cream for snack and they got cheese & crackers. I also loved that after (it was over) I was actually normal.
Tomorrow is another day in our experiment. Things will change. The kids don't know if we're doing the same thing with reversed roles (though they suspect that's the plan) but they do know it's related to this. Am I still worried? Yes. I am worried because Belle is extremely sensitive, even more than Sunshine. My hope is that she sees this is a 2 hour segment of her life and it will come to an end. But in the meantime, she will gain an experience that she'll never forget.
More to come...