What do you see?
It began with a simple homework assignment; I told my students to watch the night time sky.
I was doing my student teaching at the old Douglass Elementary School in Bristol, Virginia.
Back in the day of racial segregation, Douglass had been a school for African-American students only. Even during my stint as a student teacher, the school still served the vast majority of the city’s Black students.
It was one of those bright, clear October blue-sky days. I gave my fourth graders a simple assignment. They were to go out after dark and observe the night time sky for five minutes. Then they were to come back in and write a paragraph about what they experienced.
(Since my own childhood, I have always tried to take at least a brief moment each evening to cast my eyes toward the night time sky. Weather permitting, I rarely miss a night. This nightly communion with the creation, gaping up wide-eyed at the grandeur of the heavens, seems to bring me a sense of silent joy. Without wishing or pleading for a single thing, I often come away filled with a deep peace that things down here are never quite as bad as they may seem, or maybe not even bad at all . . . and I wanted the children to have at least a little taste of the same.)
So the next morning after giving the assignment to watch the night time sky, I asked my student Timmy to go first.
Timmy mumbled and grumbled and made excuses (which was his way). As he stomped to the front of the class, Timmy read the following:
“I don’t know why we had to do this stupid assignment. I call it stupid because it was cold out and my mother kept yelling at me to come in and clean my room the whole time. I didn’t see anything anyway. The moon wasn’t even full. You could hardly see any stars. And some clouds came in. It wasn’t clear like you said it would be. It was just a dark and cloudy night.”
I can’t say we were surprised at the tone of Timmy’s words, but I can say we were a bit shocked at their complete negativity.
Virtually every other student who followed Timmy had nothing but positive remarks when relating their experiences with the night time sky.
Natalie (who, as a preferred means of locomotion, seemed to “bound” her way through life) bounded right up the aisle to the front of the class and read the following:
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