LIVE IN HARMONY
This past week, I got to spend a little time with a First Grade Teacher who is also one of my very favorite people. She was teaching our class to join her class in singing and signing a song called The World Is A Rainbow. This was in preparation for an assembly that, I assumed, was related to the upcoming Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Although it would be an oversimplification (and somewhat outdated) for me to say that her purpose in this was to teach racial harmony, that was certainly a part of what she had in mind.
My first lesson in racial harmony came when I was First-Grade-aged or younger and it took place in church, not in school. Then, the song we sang was entitled Jesus Loves The Little Children. As I thought of these differences in experiences between the kids of today and the kids of my day, that led me to consider the ramifications.
ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD?!
Although I believe our nation has been greatly diminished by taking God out of our classrooms, I do believe that it’s right to deal with matters of faith in our public schools differently than was done in my day. And, I have to say that the approach my dear friend and First Grade Teacher is taking in teaching racial harmony, within the confines of today’s political correctness, strikes me as being more effective.
The picture above is of my Third Grade Class –1955-56 School Year. I’m fourth from the left in the second row. An obvious difference in the three kids standing together to the left of me, compared to the rest of the kids, is that their skin is darker. Their being grouped together speaks volumes about the reality of racial harmony back then. If you don’t recall what our culture was like in that time, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or you haven’t studied it, I recommend that you find a book called Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, written by Clifton L. Taulbert. Like me, Clif was born in the mid 1940s. But, he is African-American and he was born in the South. His book does a good job of capturing what that time was like.
In addition to reflecting what racial harmony was really like in that time, my Third Grade class picture vividly illustrates what I said about the effectiveness of today’s approach to teaching racial harmony versus the way it was taught then. No doubt, nearly every person in that picture, if not every one, was a Christian who, like me, had learned at their church that we should be like Jesus in loving “All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white.” The problem was, no one showed us how. Instead, nearly all of the examples set for us were just the opposite.
Although the three kids to the left of me in that picture were in school with me from Kindergarten and (in one case) through college, we were segregated (not by law but in practice) in most other things. They lived in separate neighborhoods. Our respective families didn’t socialize. They were never invited to our homes to play. They went to “colored Doctors and Dentists”. Their parents went to “colored bars” and would take them out to eat at “colored restaurants”. Their career aspirations were limited to jobs that were appropriate for “the colored”. Even in college, there were “colored fraternities and sororities”. And, though they may have shared our Christian faith, they went to “colored churches”. Sadly, even today, Sunday is the most segregated day in America.
YES, ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD!
Although “the rest of the kids in the picture” weren’t at fault for the way things were then, I suspect that, like me, most of them look back to remember how differently those who were “colored” were treated by the culture we grew up in and recognizing how very wrong that was, wish it hadn’t been like that. But it was. The most tragic result, for me, was that I ended up having no relationships with any of my darker-skinned contemporaries from the time we finished our schooling up to today.
My friend, the First Grade Teacher, is showing her students how to treat people appropriately, regardless of their differences. Thus, I trust they won’t end up with the void in their adult relationships that I have. However, though my friend is doing her job very thoroughly, that doesn’t mean there’s no further effort needed here. In fact, what I see as being most needed is to add back in what I did get as a kid … the part about Jesus and His love. In addition to being shown how to share their love with “all the children of the world”, that knowledge needs to be grounded in understanding that they were created out of God’s love, that it’s His love that has been placed in them and that loving “all the children of the world” is what He has commanded. This is the responsibility of Christians in their homes and in their churches. More importantly, this must be reinforced with exemplary behavior in how Christians treat those in the community who are different from themselves.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40