The projector in Room 226 at Paseo Academy filled the smart board with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. emerging from solid granite near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The powerful memorial to the slain civil rights leader left little doubt what Carol Charismas’ seventh-grade students would be discussing on a Wednesday in Black History Month. The students took turns reading King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
To make it relevant to the study of literature and comprehension, Charismas asked whether it was an informational, informal, narrative, reflexive, expository, historical, persuasive, humorous or perspective essay.
Jessica Crawford said historical.
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“He gave a lot of historical facts,” Charismas said. “What is he trying to do, Angel?”
“He’s trying to persuade,” Angel Castrejon said.
Charismas has invited me to study with her students this year to see the work that she and other Kansas City Public Schools teachers are doing to boost kids’ academic performance, enabling the district to earn full accreditation. That’s their goal and Superintendent Stephen Green’s for 2015. It’s posted in Charismas’ classroom.
Alice Oliveros read the opening part of King’s famous Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington speech, saying, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
Charismas added, “He’s predicting or prophesying what will happen in the future.”
Nascotia Brooks read next, covering the “promissory note” of rights, happiness and opportunity written in “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” But thousands of people had gone to the march in the capital to cash that check only to find it returned “marked ‘insufficient funds’.”
The 12- and 13-year-olds know credit and debit cards. So Charismas had to explain that checks were what people had used to pay bills. She said it would be illegal to write a check and not have money in the bank to cover it. King was conveying that about rights denied to blacks. “Replete in his language are metaphors and similes,” Charismas said.
King painted incredible word pictures so people — blind to the effects of racism — finally could see how it hurt others.
Keelron Hooker read next, covering King foretelling the unrest ahead if equality for blacks remained withheld: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
Charismas stopped him and asked: “What kind of revolt is Martin Luther King Jr. talking about? Let’s go get grenades and pistols?”
The class responded, saying no.
Charismas added: “These are the kinds of things you look for. He’s giving specific direction on what to do.”
Keelron finished his part saying: “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Charismas interjected: “King said don’t react violently.”
From conflicts at school, the students relayed how difficult King’s nonviolent resistance must have been in the face of nationwide hatred and anger against African Americans seeking civil rights. Raimya McLaughlin also shared current examples of the deaths of young African American males, protests and people trying to get the nation to see that black lives matter.
Nascotia said the passive resistance that King used came from Mohandas Gandhi.
But also comparing King’s time with today, Aliycia Bryant said, “I think there’s more violence than racism.”
Before class ended, Charismas said, “We have had a lot of food for thought today.”
And there’s more to come as the students with Charismas’ help strive to excel.