Robeson fourth-graders learn they really can change the world

Robeson fourth-graders learn they really can change the world

CHAMPAIGN — It's a question from students that plagues educators everywhere: Will all this learning actually be relevant in the so-called real world?

Like other teachers, Angela Lindquist spends a lot of time assuring her fourth-graders at Robeson Elementary that what she's teaching is not only necessary, but useful, too. To her surprise, a recent unit on world holidays proved to be just that to some of her students.

"We were doing holidays around the world, and one group was looking at Kwanzaa," Lindquist said. "One of the websites I gave them was 'The Brain' from Arthur."

Lindquist directed them to the PBS website, expecting it to only help explain the ins-and-outs of the holiday for her students. But some of her students noticed the website's wording about the holiday and were concerned. In a section on the colors of Kwanzaa, Lindquist said, the site explained the color black as "for black people."

"It was just very abrasive when they read that," Lindquist said. "So they were upset, but they were trying to keep their feelings under control."

Orlando Bishop, a member of the group studying Kwanzaa, didn't think the wording was appropriate.

"I don't like being called black — I prefer African-American," he said.

So he and three other students used what they'd recently learned from a persuasive writing unit and expressed what they thought was problematic with the wording and how they felt after reading it. They urged for a change in the wording.

"There was this real-life application, and we talk about that all the time — 'You'll have to use this one day' — but it actually happened," Lindquist said. "And it happened in a way that affected the world."

Lindquist took her students' writing and added it to an email she sent to the local PBS affiliate. From there, it was forwarded to Arlington, Va., home to Gentry Menzel, who produces games and content for the Arthur website.

"He actually looked at our writing and thanked us for taking the time to write," Lindquist said.

In an email, she said, Menzel explained that the word "black" had actually been used to promote inclusivity, something producers feared they would lose if they used the term African-American. They had wanted to include anyone black, he said, not just people living in the United States.

Regardless, the Robeson fourth-graders' input was taken to heart, and wording on the website was changed. Now, it reads, "The color black symbolizes people of African descent."

"It is incredible to see they were listened to," Lindquist said. "It was a really fast turn-around in three days. Almost immediate change."

None of the students who wrote could have predicated the outcome.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Bishop said. "I felt good because it was my first time exploring how someone can hear my voice and change."

Julie Britton said she was taken aback by what happened.

"The best part was seeing that they changed it," she said, "and seeing that we could make a change."

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juandez wrote on March 03, 2018 at 6:03 pm

They haven't learned anything. If they contact a publication like the news-gazette with something like this, the news-gazette would probably double down on whatever wording that was used and then a bunch of townies would jump in calling everyone snowflakes.

Common Sense wrote on March 03, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Right you are.

This my friends is how snowflakes are born,

Public school, what a waste.

Commonsenseman wrote on March 04, 2018 at 12:03 am

typical SJW waste of time, I'm sure "teachers" encouraged this, a totally acceptable term hurt one snowflakes opinion and of course PBS caved.  Theyve only proven that the weak minded and easily offended are two side of the same coin. Shame on this school and teachers, wasting energy on useless projects.  Please pubicize the teachers and children involved  so I make sure I never hire them as Im sure "work" will also offend them