History Lessons

At the suggestion of a friend, I gave my kids index cards and told them write two anonymous questions for me on them. The first had to be about school or English, and the second could be anything. We would discuss the appropriateness of questions before I answered them.

Very popular:
How old are you?
How long have you been teaching?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you have kids?

More than once:
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Have you published any novels? Are your plays famous?
What was ninth grade like for you?
Were you a straight-A student?

Most intriguing:
Do you like African Americans?

The last one cracked me up. Well, cracked me up and moved me to my core. “Obviously, YES,” I said. But obviously, there is more to both the question and the answer than that. I remembered Kevin from the first season of The Real World on that episode where he had a fight with Becky and called her a racist, and he declared later, “The black/white thing is always in effect.”

I said, “There’s some heavy, heavy history between black and white people in America. So I feel that,” and they sort of groaned, like, here we go with the black/white thing. “But on a face-to-face basis, are you kidding? Of course I like black people.” A sea of 30 black faces considered what I said. Chanel, mouthy and sharp in the front row, giggled and said, “So like, what if a BIG black guy was coming toward you? Would you be scared then?” I shook my head, like, Next question.

When I read the question, “What was ninth grade like for you?” I began, “Well, it was the fifties…” And they were like, “Are you SERIOUS? Yo, she’s OLD!” And I was like, “Uh, no, it was the nineties, I was kidding.”

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