Didn’t address Black History Month? It’s not too late to have an impact!

As we come to the end of Black History Month, I take off my teacher hat and put on my dad hat.

I have three kids who are truly empathetic to the world (though strangely, not to each other). They want to fight injustice anywhere they see it—in bullying, inequalities, or in the environment. My wife and I have tried to help them see that they are truly lucky and privileged, and we have tried to be honest with them about issues others face around the world.

Spring Break trips for Heffernan children involves visiting historic sites like Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Photograph courtesy the author

Not every student in your classroom has that empathy. And it’s because of this I want to highlight a lesson that I didn’t teach, but rather my kids came home and told me about.

Mrs. Erin Raleigh, the LRC Director at Grande Park Elementary School, has taught the same lesson for years, and it has always made an impact on her students. She starts off seeming to go off topic by telling the students how she loves M&Ms. She talks about how she loves all the colors of M&Ms because they all taste the same—the coating on the outside is just a color, it doesn’t change the taste at all.

She tells them that you can buy specific colors of M&Ms, but she never would do that because she just loves having a big bowl of multicolored M&Ms.

She challenges her students to go home and blindfold their parents to see if they can guess what color M&M they are eating. (I got none right when my son asked me this year, by the way.) The kids know that their parents will rarely (if ever) get it right because all M&Ms are the same.

When Mrs. Raleigh gets to the “real lesson,” or the book she is sharing with her students about civil rights, she lets the students know that there was a time that people in this country had different rules based on the color of their skin. Most of the students don’t know this, and they are really upset by it. They struggle with the idea that there was a time that some of the kids in their class wouldn’t have been allowed to be in their class. Mrs. Raleigh then asks the question that brings it all home:

“Can you believe people would decide if someone is a good or bad person based on their candy coating?”

She ends up talking to them about how each of us has our own candy coating, but we are all the same underneath. And I love what she does at the end—she brings it all home by talking about how M&Ms aren’t good or bad depending on their candy coating, and neither are people. She talks about how having a bowl with so many different-colored M&Ms is so much better than a bowl with all the same color. And her last line is perfect—”I don’t know about you, but I would never judge an M&M based on its color, so why would I ever do that to a person?”

The lesson is so simple, so genius, so true. For each of my kids, it’s made a huge difference. For their friends, it’s made a difference. Kids can relate to M&Ms and make the connection to their classmates. Now we need some of the grown-ups to take the M&M test.

Photograph courtesy the author

Chris is one of our #worldgeochat bloggers. #worldgeochat is a professional learning network at its finest—a community of learners who work with each other and for each other. Join us each Tuesday night at 9 Eastern/8 Central—click here for a list of upcoming topics!

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