February was the month of love that we started celebrating in January. January 15 to be exact. Set Up is key. This is true if you are giving a party, telling a joke, or painting a house. It is really true when you teach something new to third graders. And it is really, REALLY true if the topic requires analysis, connection, problem solving, and application.
February is Black History Month, but we start it in January. I introduce Black History through the concept of Freedom History on Dr. King’s birthday, along with the notion that until everybody has equal rights that are protected under the law, no one really does. Dr. King understood the twin engines of intellect and imagination in change and transformation. Through his brilliant “I Have a Dream” speech, word was entwined with image and became hope– a rope to pull people, white and black, out of entrenched injustice. Our collective imagination leaped (and leaps still) at the invitation to see something new. The heart was stirred and the intellect sparked. The gargantuan, epic task of tilting the axis toward justice began. He used imagination to make his dream our dream. I was entering the third grade when he gave that speech.
Fifty years later, I am still in a third grade classroom — now as a teacher. I try to follow Dr. King’s model and use imagination to amplify what was and what can be. Imagination was taken for granted as a part of every third grader’s life in those days… but now imagination is an endangered commodity inside classrooms and out. And so is our hard won diversity. I am lucky to teach in a school that treasures both.
It is tempting not to acknowledge the importance of imagination in the classroom. After all, it is not part of the Standards of Learning or Common Core, and will never appear on a high stakes test. But imagination is the fiery furnace that refines mismatched standards into golden threads that weave a fabric of deep understanding.
February is over. We take forward what we we learned; each of us will spend our lives writing the next chapter in Freedom History. It takes hope, imagination, and love. Beginning our March chapter has been postponed by snow, but I am excited about what comes next. I haven’t revealed it to my students. When we get back to school, each child will find a brown paper package tied up with string We will begin by unwrapping March together. Set-up is key.