February 24, 2005

Austin Notes: Color Blindness

In an Austin elementary school known for its diversity, a second–grade class was learning about Texas’ segregationist past. Their textbook taught them a slogan segregationists used to chant: “Two four six eight/ We don’t want to integrate.”

At recess, the teacher found a group of her girls chanting that slogan on the playground. A beautifully mixed bagful of kids—white, black, brown, yellow—clapping hands and chanting together loudly and happily, just because it was such a fun rhyme.

The teacher rushed over and questioned the kids. They knew what the slogan meant, sort of—they understood the history lesson—but they just didn’t connect it to anything in their lives. For all they knew, they might as well have been chanting some slogan from the War of the Roses.

Feverishly the teacher enlisted them in trying to think of a substitute last word for the chant. “Two four six eight/ We don’t want to segregate” was the obvious one, but for some reason the kids just didn’t like it as much, maybe because the teacher did. Okay, well, how about “Two four six eight/ Second grade is really great?” No. They weren’t sure whether second grade really was great or not. Then the kids themselves came up with a replacement: “Two four six eight/ Miss Zapata’s really great” (not her real name). So at last they could keep merrily chanting.

I heard the teacher tell this blushingly to another teacher and a parent.