The Teachable Moment

Kristen - Grapevine, Texas
Entered on February 5, 2009

I believe a school’s curriculum is necessary but sometimes, deviation from the plan is imperative. This story is about a school district, approved curriculum, and a “teachable moment”.

Last fall, the school district organized a mock election as part of the district’s approved curriculum. Teachers instructed their students about issues, candidates and voting rights. All students were expected to vote. This reflcected the district’s approved curriculum.

Getting my bilingual first grade students ready was no small feat. Many of the students think Mexico and Texas are the same place; in the same way many people think New York and New York City are the same place. We talked about voting, the responsibilities of public office and who the president of the United States would be able to “boss around”. We were ready.

The teachable moment of that day came when Ria, who is Puerto Rican, shouted across the room: “Which one is the brown boy? I need to vote for the brown boy because he’s Puerto Rican too!” She still insists that “Bracka Omabamama” is Puerto Rican because he “looks like my dad.” For a 6 year old, this is a good reason to pick a candidate.

After the primaries, we learned about lifestyle and family members of the candidates. After the national elections, the kids knew who won but it rarely came up in class.

Fast forward to January 13th. My district had decided not to allow students to watch the inauguration during school. The official statement was: “We’re not going to view it. We’re just going to stick to our instructional program because there is so much technology and media coverage, we feel that students will be able to go home and view it at home with their families.”

Officially, the inauguration isn’t part of the approved curriculum and they felt it would cut into instructional time and take away from the approved curriculum. I was stunned.

After public outrage, a call from the teachers’ union and the Texas Education Agency, the decision was adjusted so that students could watch parts of the inauguration live according to class schedule, technology and age. At the elementary level, no students watched it live.

We read an article on Obama’s journey from childhood to the White House. The kids were excited to read more about his life, and overwhelmed when I told them we were going to watch his inauguration on TV.

We watched a pre-recording of the speech and when Dianne Feinstein introduced Barak Obama my kids cheered as if we were watching the super bowl. I am aware that my first grade English Language Learners didn’t understood every word of the speech, but I believe they understood the event. At the moment when the man who “looks like Ria’s daddy” got sworn in, several of them looked at me and said, “That could be me!” Their friends echoed: “That could be me!”

And that is what I call efficient use of instructional time. That is why I believe that there are moments when the approved curriculum should be set aside so we can learn from life.