Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Element 2: Respect for Others _White Water_
Authors: Michael S. Brandy & Eric Stein
Illustrator: Shadra Strickland
Grade Level: K - Sixth
This book can be purchased here.
Michael is a young, enthusiastic boy. He is also black, and the year is 1962. He takes a trip from the rural South into town. The harsh realities of segregation become increasingly apparent to him as he is traveling into town. First, there is the bus stop and bus ride, where he must defer to a white boy and mother. Then there is the drink from the separate water fountain signed _COLORED_. The water tastes nasty, and he stops drinking. But the white boy continues drinking from the fountain signed _WHITE_. That water must be special--extra cold and crisp. Michael goes for the water, but his grandmother stops him.
Michael wants to know what that water tastes like--the white water. As time passes, Michael becomes fixated on the white water. He has oppressive, nightmarish thoughts about being denied the water. Finally, he gets a taste of it. But it's just as nasty and rusty as the _COLORED_ water. As he wonders about this, a white lady yells at him that that fountain isn't for him. Michael is startled, and falls to the ground. He notices a single pipe supplying water to both fountains. It's the same water, after all. Michael begins making the realization that these labels, _WHITE_ & _COLORED_, are thrust upon us. The labels lead to profound and damaging misinterpretations of the world. "If they weren't real, what else should I question?"
Element Two - Respecting others:
Michael faces disrespect by others, which manifests in discrimination that wounds and confounds. The reader is taken on the journey of isolation, nightmares and all. The reader is given to see the effects that are produced by disrespect. Readers are also given an opportunity to empathize with the deep emotions and intellectual struggles that come when trying to understand circumstances that seem so beyond us. This empathy can serve as a conceptual bridge between self and other. The story finishes with the realization that it was the same water in both fountains all along. This is a symbol that there is the same humanity flowing through us all, in spite of the misleading labels we apply.
How to use the White Water:
I would read this book to the class. I'd pause for discussion at critical moments in the book to ask the students to identify with how Michael might feel in the face of the disrespect and discriminatory episodes he encounters. I would ask the students to share about times when they felt similarly about being disrespected themselves. I would have students access prior knowledge about what we've learned about the Civil Rights Era in an effort to understand why Michael's nightmares involve police dominance and barbed wire filled marshal intensity. We'd discuss what how labels fill our world with meaning, and about the realities that might be behind the delusions they can create. I'd have the students write about the story makes them question.