Saturday, December 11, 2010

What Do You Know?

"How many of you have heard of Nelson Mandela?" The class of 32 high school seniors barely moved until one hand went up.
"Can you tell us something about Nelson Mandela," the student teacher asked.
"Ah... he looks a lot like Morgan Freeman."
In one of my observations the other day, I heard the aforementioned discussion. Yes, it's really true that many college bound high school seniors know very little about South Africa and Nelson Mandela.
When this particular student teacher introduced his world affairs class to the topic, I was asked by the cooperating teacher (aka master teacher) to participate in the discussion. He was eager to have me tell the class about the day that Mandela was released, given that it was a most memorable day in my own classroom and something that these students knew very little about. If you do the math it's easy to see why. They were barely 2 years old at the time.
The intro lessen for my student teacher went very well and when my time came I managed to pack in as much as I could with my allotted 10 min. We never really got to Mandela's release because building an understanding about just what Apartheid was and looked like too the entire time. I decided to do a mini demo about why race is a bogus concept. By having the tallest and shortest kids stand and then the lightest and darkest we talked about how everyone has the same 6 genes for skin color, but that the biggest genetic difference in the classroom was in height. Fortunately the kids responded well and when a blond, blue-eyed kid volunteered to "be the white guy," and one f only two African American girls in the class volunteered to be the person with the darkest skin tone, the point was well taken.
Before the lesson ended I heard a baby cry. Then more noise and a student got up holding a lifelike doll and slowly walked out of the room with the screaming infant. Immediately I knew it was a doll and what was going on. One of those "Social Living" class activities where students are part of a simulation about pregnancy and childcare. Back in the day we used uncooked eggs as the vulnerable life form. Today, the technology is so advanced that the simulated child looks and sounds real. Only the issues about teen pregnancy and birth control are the same.
When I return to this classroom in a month or so (Winter Break) I'll have a chance to see what they know about Mandela. I did mention, though, imagine what it's like going from prisoner to president?

I noted too that someone in Portland last week dropped a S. African gold Krugerrand into a Salvation Army bucket. It's worth about $1200. these days. No mention was made about the system and working conditions that produced that coin. Merry Christmas.

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