Carson Skyped into my classroom again this morning. I invited him to come and give some background and context about Jim Crow and segregation to my freshmen as they read To Kill a Mockingbird.
A number of my babies seem to be having a really tough time with this book, which stymied me at first. I understand that I sometimes let my own deep and abiding affection for certain novels cloud my recognition that not everyone can be expected to be as in love with them as I. I’m working really hard to remember that I’m teaching NINTH GRADERS here; I think I’ve become so used to working with the older, more mature students that I forget, every once in a while, that these little ones probably don’t have the kind of experience, background, or education that they sometimes need to really understand and appreciate the novels we read.
I recognized that a big missing piece for my students and To Kill a Mockingbird was likely the aspect of culture; as mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly liberal Northerners, most of us have never really had to consider the legacy of segregation and racism in our everyday lives, and I think that understanding those things is crucial to really appreciating the gravity and importance of this novel. Carson did a great job of laying the groundwork for the students’ understanding of the CULTURE of the country – not just the South, but the whole of the US – from Reconstruction on, and I think they left the class feeling like they understood a little better the way that culture informs the characters in Lee’s book.
For myself, I was quietly proud of how much I already know of what Carson covered. I was taking notes on the board for the kids as he was talking, and at one point I had written the exact phrase that he spoke a moment later. I joke with the history teacher at CHS that we should consider trading jobs once in a while; he’s a frustrated English teacher and I am most certainly a frustrated history teacher. I could probably have done a decent job covering the material that Carson taught my kids this morning, but I was particularly grateful that he was willing to get up early (we’re a time zone ahead of him) and beam himself into my classroom. I think that it’s important for my students to hear a lot of different voices. I admire Carson’s knowledge and adore his style, and I’m grateful and honored that he agrees to share his time and talent so freely with me.