Leave the Confederate Monument Debate to the Third Graders

This story brought a huge smile to my face. In New Orleans a group of third graders was given the task of imagining a new use for the empty pedestals throughout the city that once featured Confederate leaders. The students were aided by 826 New Orleans, which supports efforts to improve students’ reading and thinking skills. The results speak for themselves.

Students thought carefully and broadly about ways to acknowledge their city’s history and culture. While a monument to Solomon Northup and Ruby Bridges makes perfect sense for historical reasons, students also singled out regional foods such as crawfish and beignets as worthy of commemoration.

According to Abigail, Northup was the “greatest slave to escape.”

I have said more than once that communities facing the challenge of what to do with their Confederate monuments have not done enough to embrace their student-age population. This is unfortunate given the fact that the decisions being made will impact this specific demographic for decades to come. More importantly, their perspective on the past is indispensable. In contrast with the adults engaged in this debate, our students are being taught a much more inclusive and, in many cases, more accurate narrative of American history.

The result of their efforts was a book that featured student artwork and thoughts about how to move forward with new monuments. You can order your copy here for $15. I did. I rarely ask my readers to shell out money, but this project is definitely worth supporting.

Admittedly, I had not thought that third graders could be engaged in a way that contributes substantially to this debate. I stand corrected and will definitely share this project with future teacher workshop audiences. Congratulations to all the teachers and students involved in this project and special thanks to 826 New Orleans for their support.

[This coming Wednesday I will be working with history educators here in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library followed by a week of working with teachers alongside the incredible staff at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. It’s been a very busy summer.]

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