Is Alabama in America?


Each “On My Heart” entry is just that – something that is weighing in on my heart.  I didn’t want a blog that moans and groans; whines and complains or even one that rants and raves.  It is my hope that “On My Heart” inspires and engages and at its best moves you to action.

“Is Alabama in America?” was a question asked of me several weeks ago by a 9th grade student.  Take a moment with your “WHAT?!”, “You must be kidding me!” “Oh, My God” and” !@@$#”  and then read on. . . . .

This 9th grade student is an American born citizen of Latin descent whose parents were also American born and raised in the United States.  He and his parents were all educated by the public school systems in the Bay Area; he since kindergarten.  I was on a multiple day substitute teaching assignment in a Bay Area high school English class.  This is my FAVORITE assignment for all the obvious reasons.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the lesson plan left for me indicated that students would be reading a ballad entitled, “The Ballad of Birmingham.”  The ballad centered on the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed 4 Little Girls:  Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

I imagined that the teacher had walked them through key facts about the Civil Rights Movement.  I imagined how much I would’ve enjoyed this particular unit of study – what additional materials I could’ve brought in to supplement the pitifully limited and lacking information provided in most current history texts. (SEE BELOW FOR A LITTLE MORE ON THIS ISSUE.)

I became somewhat nervous, when the students told me they had been “studying” poetry for several weeks and didn’t know the difference between a ballad and a sonnet.  I looked this up in their literature book, gave them a couple of examples and then explained the assignment left by their teacher.  Once they were able to settle themselves (which took way too much time for any 9th grade students anywhere – but that’s for another entry.  Before you think it had anything to do with me being THE SUB, Ms. C. J. as I’m called by students doesn’t have your typical sub challenges) the questions began.  Most questions had to do with the meaning of a word despite the fact that all new vocabulary was bolded in the ballad and listed in a green vocabulary box with the definition to the right of the ballad!

Then my friend who inspired this entry, let’s call him Javier, raised his hand and asked me where Birmingham was. 

Okay, take a deep breath like I did.  I quickly said to myself – this teacher has not done his job and the child can’t be expected to know every city in every state.  I told him Birmingham was in Alabama.  He thanked me and continued his reading.  Moments later, Javier called me close to his desk and whispered, “Ms. C. J., is Alabama in America?”  There was no joking or trying to drive the sub crazy in the big brown eyes looking up at me.  I answered, “Yes” and then STOPPED the class.

I asked for a show of hands of those who had heard of the Civil Rights Movement.  About 5 or 6 hands (of the 27 students) went up.  When asked which of those raised hands could tell the rest of the class a little about the Civil Rights Movement all hands went down.  Then 1 of the brave souls put her hand back up and said “I know something about Rosa Parks.”  I thanked her for her offering and asked her to share this with the class.

In the end I left a note for the teacher, letting him know his lesson plan had been altered.  “The Ballad of Birmingham” had been read aloud, but only AFTER all the children saw where Alabama was on a map and some discussion about the Civil Rights Movement in America.  The 15 questions he wanted them to answer about the ballad would have to be answered on another day because students had been in a discussion getting their questions answered:  1.  Who would bomb a church?  2.  Was it Osama Bin Laden?  3. Was it a Muslim church?  4.  Didn’t the men know people were at church?  5.  Did the men go to jail?  6.  Why were the white people so mad at the Black people?

The next time you are tempted to shake your head at the lack of information and understanding our children have, call the school in your neighborhood.  Find out what the American History class/text covers.  Volunteer to coordinate a Black History program.  You may be surprised to know they’ve been replaced with multicultural celebrations.  Volunteer to speak to a class about a moment in Black History.  Donate some books, DVDs on the topic to a school library.

As we celebrate and commemorate the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the least we can do is make sure our children know that Alabama is indeed in America!

NOTE:  Over the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been working as a substitute teacher I’ve had occasion to sub in history classes.  I’ve been appalled at the lack of and/or limited amount of  information about the Black experience in America.  Let’s hold school districts accountable for teaching!

3 Responses to “Is Alabama in America?”

  1. GB Says:

    Yes, we’ve lost and way and don’t seem to know the way back, huh! Thankfully there are educators like you who actually take an interest in teaching children what they absolutely should know. Shame on the English, Social Studies and, need I say, History teachers who definitely aren’t serving today’s children.

  2. GB Says:

    Oops…wonder what kind of teachers I had :-)…the first line of my last post should read …”Yes, we’ve lost OUR way…”

  3. Dera Says:

    La Rhonda, this was excellent. OMG is what I initially thought, but you are so right. It is not their fault and it is not because they are dumb or don’t want to learn. It is the pitiful system and the lack of preparation of the teacher. Geesh! I feel sorry for the guy, I know he has X amount of students and so much time to impart the material but dang. Whew1

    Anyway, I just have to use this example when I address the Hollister Education Council next month. Another component to add.

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