© 2013 Marla McLean Xavier Light Sculpture

Hopeful

We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. -President Obama, excerpt from inaugural speech   I will run to people who are bad. I will talk to them and speak the laws and they will change. -Super Running Boy, (Zander)  Kindergarten It is a day of great hope. It is the Inauguration day of President Barak Obama. It is the day we remember and honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems like a perfect day to share some of the Peaceful Magical Super Heroes created by PreK, Kindergarten and 1st Grade children at SWS. I began the New Year introducing the ideas of Martin Luther King, Segregation, Equality, Justice and Injustice, and Non-Violent protest.   I began by asking the children  ”What do you know about Martin Luther King?” The largest knowledge base from the children was he was shot, the next most common response was he was good and for peace, the third most common answer was there is a sculpture of him in DC, and the fourth most common response was a confusion of him and Rosa Parks.  Only 3 children understood who he was. Two of those children were brothers.   In small groups, I began by saying “Martin Luther King was an American, he was brown skinned and he is one of my heroes”. And then I told stories: “A long time ago, in the United States of America, you are not going to believe this, all the brown skinned people, and tan skinned people had to live separate from the white and pink skinned people. It was the law, or the rules. People were not allowed to go to school together, play together or live together. It gets even worse! The white and pink skinned people got all the best stuff. The brown and tan skinned people were not allowed to use all the good stuff. It was unfair!”   And so went my retelling of history. The children were flabbergasted! “What, you mean I couldn’t play with  _______?!!!” (naming a friend in the group)   I even went on to share that I could have gone to go to jail because my children are brown skinned.   And so I continued…   I shared a portion of the I Have a Dream Speech.   I shared that people wanted to join Dr. King, however they had to make a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, weapons or fighting words.   “Sometimes I fight with my brother.” “Sometimes my parents fight.”    ”Yes! ” I said, “this is normal; it takes a lot of practice not to fight. The important thing is to practice, and try, and think about what to do when you are angry.” I told a story of brown skinned boys who sat down at a lunch counter and the restaurant would not serve them, because of how they looked. I told the story of how Martin Luther King rallied people through his words and how they joined outside the restaurant and held hands, and chanted “This is unfair, equality now!” and how people used art and words and made signs. And then bad angry people came and pushed them down, and said mean words and hurt them. But the people who were protesting did not fight back. They helped each other up and peacefully kept chanting, “This is unfair! Equality now!”   What really got the children is when I told them, “…and then the police came, and who do you think they took to jail? They took the peaceful people to jail! And when the peaceful protesters were put in jail they sang songs, like “This little light of mine” and “We shall overcome.  Drawing By Elise, 1st Grade   And the word got out, that we lived in a country where peaceful people were pushed down and put in jail, and so more people joined the ideas of Martin Luther King,Jr.”  Of all the things children knew about MLK, it was that he was shot. And so I told them how “he was speaking to the garbage workers, because they were not getting enough pay to feed their families even though they worked really really hard to keep the streets clean. And someone who did not believe in all things fair and equality was violent and shot him. But, the amazing thing is, the work of Martin Luther King did not end when he was shot. People kept working for fairness, and soon the laws or rules were changed.” The conversation was riveting with all groups of children. Patrick said, “Wait, were the police all white that took the peaceful people to jail?” “Yes.” He looked at his skin, and looked up, “I hate being white.” I assured him that he did not do any of those things from the past. That he was not responsible for what happened a long time ago. I reminded him that his maternal side of the family is from Columbia, South America. “And my Dad is from Hawaii.” He seemed momentarily relieved. I was struck by his deep sensitivity and and sense of responsibility. Throughout this project, parents stopped me to share that their children were coming home to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this project had meaning.   At this point I introduced their new project: “First think about something you are really good at or love to do. Next I want you to imagine, make-up, invent a super hero with super powers that includes what you love to do. You can have more super powers too, like super speed, or strength or even flying.”  This might sound easy, but, I have a big challenge for you; your Super Hero selves have taken a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, just like Martin Luther King and all the people who believed in his words.  That means you can make the world better, you can rescue, you can change bad guys, but no hurting or killing anyone…not even the bad guys!”  (I have no issue with children killing or eliminating bad guys in their play or pretend. It is normal development for young children to begin to deal with good and evil through dramatic play. It is healthy for children to do this play, as it allows them a sense of control over all things bad. However, peaceful conflict resolution and non-violence takes great thought and practice. This project is to allow children to start the thinking and practice through narrative, art and metaphor.) Below, Mira works on showing power in her drawing. She loves making art, and so like many, her super power is activated through teaching: Art Super Hero I’m gonna fly and jump over roofs and teach people who want to be artists to do art. - Mira, PreK   The majority of PreK children jumped into this project with fantastical magical thinking. Ryan, for example included Santa Claus as the ultimate change agent: Flying Boat Hopper I can jump past heaven and into my boat. My boat has wings. I fly to Mexico to save my grandparents. I save them from evil bad guys. My boat shoots out Santa and his reindeer and the bad guys are not coming back ever. -Ryan, PreK   For Ainsley, she recently developed a new power over Christmas, she learned how to do somersaults. For her, her super hero was based in her new physical abilities:  Somersault Super Hero I do somersaults to make people happy. -Ainsley, PreK Dorian’s Super Hero is also not separated from his real life self: Dress Up Dorian I dress up and do shows for people. They will feel happy. -Dorian, PreK Harvey, who loves using the hammer, drill, and tools in the studio uses his “thing that he loves to do” to help others. Super Strong Man I will use my hands to make houses for people. -Harvey, PreK Lucca, PreK, uses his powers to protect the force that protects him now, his parents. He does have the bad guy hurting himself as a by-product of his actions. This was not uncommon, with many PreK age children still needing to hurt the bad guys in some way (and this is completely developmentally appropriate.)  Super Fast Man I’m great at soccer. I go really fast with my super fast shoes. I jump really high to the ceiling and save my parents from the pointy ceiling. The bad evil vampire put them there. He bangs himself on the door when I climb up there. -Lucca, PreK Levi has made the correlation that calming people can prevent bad decisions. This developmental leap is illustrated through his super hero that both rescues and transforms: Super Levi I fly to dogs that aren’t being treated well. I’m gonna stop the people from being mad. I will calm them. -Levi, PreK PreK Dylan shows some deep thoughts about nurture and nature. His idea that maybe if you are in a place with “not so much mean stuff, you couldn’t be bad”, is deep.  Lava Man Lava Man makes volcanoes that scare away bad guys so that they would maybe go somewhere that didn’t have much mean stuff so they couldn’t be bad. PreK student Tate also follows this theme of  changing bad guys. For him,  giving nice things, like a Yankees baseball cap to a bad guy. makes them feel good, thus facilitating change. Super Tate My shoe turns into 100 Yankee caps for the bad guys to feel good. The other foot makes Red Sox caps. First they’re bad and then they’re good! -Tate, PreK   Isabella uses the metaphor of sunshine in her illustration, connecting the iconic symbol with meaning: Isabella Super Hero I’m really good at riding my huge bike. I go fast. I go up in the air and give people sunshine. -Isabella, PreK   In addition to thinking, and inventing based on a concept. I showed children exaples of how illustrators show power through line and color. I challenged the children to make their picture really show it was an example of some type of super power, and not just a regular kid or scene. Below, Kindergarten students Carter and Matteo Z. are deep in focus as they tackle this new kind of task. In Kindergarten, ideas began to expand. More children created super heroes that helped or rescued in specific ways. While there is a mix of children still deeply entrenched in complete magical thinking, I began to see the next stage of development emerging; more use of metaphor, understanding of fairness, change and inclusion of the greater community. Flip Guy I do backflips and catch up with bad guys. I will tie their hands behind their backs so they won’t punch me. I will take them to a spot and tell them to be peaceful and no fighting and no weapons. The change happens when I put a rainbow on them -Lane, Kindergarten The idea of friendship as a gift of power transmission as told by Gus, is both fierce and gentle: XStrado I stomp on the ground as hard as I can and I put my hand out like a fist and a ray comes out. But no one can see it. If there is someone who didn’t know how to make friends they can make friends. -Gus, Kindergarten Raigan loves to make string necklaces in the studio; her super hero bestows powers to others that allow them to travel: Super Raigan I make necklaces. My necklaces help people to go anywhere they want. -Raigan, Kindergarten August, though in Kindergarten shows his understanding of non-violent protest by using signs and text to create  change. Even though he has not colored his sketch yet, the image is powerful to share.  Speeding Ninja I can run around the world putting signs everywhere, they might say, “No Fighting”. -August, Kindergarten   Zuri combines magical thinking and metaphor to illustrates in detail how her Super Hero will make change:  Build Stuff I’m gonna build a bridge tower around the bad guys with stars. The stars sprinkle stuff all over and they turn into good guys. -Zuri, Kindergarten   Super Michael My powers will make the city grow back; houses, cars, streetlights, boats, trees, and grass. -Michael, Kindergarten   Lily believes in power of Art: Super Lily I’m going to make the world more beautiful. I’m going to make bad guys pictures. They will like them and turn to good guys. -Lily, Kindergarten   Electra already recognizes the power of reading. She also travels in time, therefor righting past wrongs: Super Reading Girl I can travel back in time.  I will read to bad people and they will be good. -Electra, Kindergarten   While for Evie, the healing powers of a Band-Aid prevail! Hero Evie I’m good at helping people. I have powers to fly to people who fell down. I help them with my powers and potions. It helps them get up and puts bandaids on them. -Evie, Kindergarten   (Lily, Evie and August will be returning to add color to their representations) In first grade, many children were challenged by this assignment. By first grade the majority are aware of pop culture, advertising and movies that cast super heroes in a pretty reliable role of eliminating bad guys through violence. They had a harder time figuring out how to transform what they are good at into something beyond themselves. There was a less blurring of the lines between real life and imagination, which made the younger children’s stories flow more effortlessly. However their understanding of injustice and justice was more complex. Their ability to express themselves through visual media was more complicated. Witnessing these subtle changes in thinking, representing, and creating is rewarding. It reinforces why having an Art Studio (in the context of Reggio Emilia Environment like SWS) in upper grades continues to be necessary and a vital force in developing 21st century thinking skills. Much of the work in the studio is about big ideas and how to construct/deconstruct and communicate through symbols and metaphors.  Mason’s Super Hero shows his understanding that not all people are able to afford flying:  I can make paper airplanes. I make an airplane that people can fly on for like $5. Cause it cost a lot of money to fly on an airplane. -Mason, 1st Grade Dare Dog My name is Dare Dog. I fly and I have a tail. I have three fingers. I fly around looking for people who need help, like if a kite is stuck in a tree or if you’ve lost your mom. I can magically make a path to them. -Dylan, 1st Grade   Super Emma Clare I save babies if they get hurt. I fly down and pick them up. -Emma Clare, 1st Grade Charlie creatively understands the power of humor to diffuse conflict. Jokeman I’m good at making funny jokes. If the bad guys laugh, they’ll be good. -Charlie, 1st Grade   Max uses his “thing that he loves to do”; skate, to teach others, like many SWS children. His thoughtful representation shows the intricacies of his ideas. Super Ice Skater   I’m a super skater. I give ice skating lessons. I throw ice dust and the dust makes people better at skating. -Max, 1st Grade Alden saves fireflies, a wonderful metaphor for preserving light and peaceful beings. Fire Flyer I’m good at studying fireflies. I’m gonna have a jet and when I see predators coming to eat fireflies, I’m gonna save the fireflies. -Alden, 1st Grade Tillie had a simple idea that she illustrated graphically different from most of the children. Her tiny super hero is detailed in simple black silhouette. Initially when she added color, she had the blue sky only at the top of the building (a common idea that the sky is only on the top of a page.) I tried explaining that the sky is all around and she looked puzzled, so I scooted her out the front door of the school to observe how the sky actually surrounds a building all the way to the ground. She lit up with a smile and said “Ohhhhhh, I see that now!” There were a lot of these type of visual “aha” moments with the 1st graders as I encouraged them to take leaps in visual perception and expression.   Super Flipper I’m gonna flip through the air and save people in trouble. -Tillie, 1st Grade The next day, Tillie brought to school a Christmas present that her talented Uncle created for her for Christmas. “See Tillie, now you have proof that you really ARE a Super Hero!”, I said.   Builder Man When I see broken buildings I shoot them. When I shoot (the buildings), they come back to being a building. -Xavier, 1st Grade   First grade Ava’s Super Hero touched my heart. I often push her to try again and push through the hard parts. Here’s what she created: Super Woman I’m going to fly to people in a rocket ship and teach children how to make wonderful art. I have a grabber and I grab the art they don’t like. I get them to do it again. I don’t want them to give up. I give the art back to them and then they try once more. -Ava M. 1st Grade   And Anja combined the idea of conflict resolution through diplomatic talks with the addition of some magic dust! Peace Lady I’m good at making peace by talking. I can fly. I throw my peace sign dust and people stop having fights and can work it out. -Anja, 1st Grade   Inaugural poet Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today” at the swearing-in ceremony for President Obama today. Here is the last stanza:  We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop and every window, of one country—all of us— facing the stars hope—a new constellation waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it—together. (Light Sculpture By Xavier, 1st Grade)    It occurs to me, that often it is indeed metaphor and magical thinking combined with reality that stops us in our tracks, and causes pause. And causes understanding. And causes wonder. And sometimes change. Not unlike the “I have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King. Not unlike President Obama’s inaugural address. Not unlike Richard Blanco’s poem Not unlike the children’s work above. They are practicing. Still practicing. And for that, I am thankful. And hopeful.      PS I am also thankful for Early Childhood Educator and friend Maureen Ingram who told me of her idea to do Peaceful Super Heroes with her 3 year old class. It inspired me to explore the idea in the studio at SWS.                      
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9 Responses to “Hopeful”

  1. Rachel Cross says:

    Fantastic post on a most auspicious day : )

    Thanks Marla!

  2. Adam Ruben says:

    What a great provocation, and what tremendous thinking on the part of these kids.

  3. Danleigh Kaplan says:

    Ainsley is often a little lady of few words so I knew you had struck a chord with her when she told me about your MLK lesson on the way home from school. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring blog post with us!! I think I may ask Ainsley to pull out her amazing somersault powers to help us solve the next quarrel among sisters. I look forward to each and every post on your blog, thank you for being such a superhero in our children’s lives :)

  4. Pam Costner says:

    Mira has shared these discussions with us over several dinners this past week. We are grateful for all the doors SWS opens for our child – and us.

  5. Edward McCurty says:

    I’m at work in a deep meditation now about peace-making, healing and the power of the imagination. What a wonderful gift it was for you to encourage our children to think about how they can use their innate “powers” for good! Thank you.

  6. Lauren says:

    This was a powerful reminder of the inherent benefits of Early Ed that are seldom measured by policy-makers, but important to to children and families. Thank you! @laurenmartmeyer

  7. Sapna Mirchandani says:

    I loved reading about the peaceful superhero project. The kids’ creations were beautiful. But I was saddened to read about the conversations about race. (The comment that a student didn’t like his white skin jumped out.) It’s such a heavy, complicated subject – maybe too much too soon? I regularly marvel at how refreshing it is that these kids don’t view skin color as a dividing factor. (If only grownups could be so enlightened, no pun intended.) Can’t we bask in their unblemished view of the world a little longer, and try to learn from that, before introducing them to all the ugliness of prejudice?

  8. Marla McLean says:

    As much as one might like to believe children have an unblemished view of the world; culture, experience, neighborhood, peers, family, movies, toys and advertising speak loudly in biases (race/ethnicity just being one.) Children consume these biases. By being silent, is one complicit? By having conversations about race (or gender, or disabilities etc), and engaging in conversations about fairness and exclusion, children can begin to develop habits and patterns of thinking that challenge bias as well as give them tools to notice and question bias. My son, who is bi-racial encountered derogatory remarks about his skin when he was 5, from another 5 year old. Here’s a great article about research around young children and race. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html Many years ago I did my undergraduate thesis work on anti-bias education, it continues to be an integral part of my practice and life. Yes it is complicated, but it is also rewarding to actively be engaged in the complexities of living in a diverse and imperfect country/world. Thanks everyone for your feedback and comments. I truly appreciate all of your voices.

  9. Kirsten Leckszas says:

    Thank you Marla…we live in our neighborhood purposefully, and have our Super Running Boy at SWS purposefully. Thank you for continuing the discussion on race and fairness. You have provoked great thought.

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