16 March 2009

Little liberals in training


The Earth Day demonstration I blogged about yesterday was not the first demonstration staged by those of us at Harlan Elementary School in Ames, Iowa.

We had practice. And freedom to express ourselves. Life was good.

Earlier that year, it came to our attention that our teacher, Ms. Dashner, was leaving the teaching profession. We adored Ms. Dashner (as we adored all of the teachers in that fabulous, open, experimental school) and were dismayed that she would be forced to leave school just to have a baby. It didn't seem fair to us.

This also just coincidentally occurred a few years after my only younger sibling was born, which may have contributed to my feelings of abandonment by Ms. Dashner.

I have three older siblings (Terri, Kathy and Nick). I was born years after their family clique had been established. As a result, I felt my childhood was a combination of being an outsider, observing a family unit, yet at the same time, being practically treated as if I were an only child. Conflicted and probably psycho in some way, I know.

It was easy for me to disappear completely in any situation. But when I wanted it, I got lots of attention. Then my younger brother, Pat, came along when I was in second grade. The "olders" (what I call the older siblings) had been hoping we were getting a dog, but alas, it was the announcement of a new baby on the way. It was probably at that time that my eyes turned green. I was jealous. I didn't fit into the olders clique. And I wasn't the baby of the family anymore, either.

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally over this :). I was a kid and I'm just sharing my feelings as a kid. I love my siblings - both the olders and the youngster brother. I only tell you this to explain my 10/11 year old state of mind in 1970.

In my mind, it was terribly unfair that Ms. Dashner was leaving us, her adoring students, to have a baby. I mean, the total injustice of it!

How did students handle being aggrieved in 1969/1970? Our class immediately started planning a "sit in" demonstration, of course. We all made signs. We informed the principal of the time and date our demonstration would occur.

We went to recess that afternoon, toting our signs. When the bell rang to signal the end of recess, we all came together in a clump and sat on the playground with our signs. Quiet, but excited. Feeling rather rebellious. Feeling powerful.

We sat there for the rest of the afternoon. No one interfered. No one tried to talk us down. No one tried to enforce rules. They just let us... be.

A couple of hours later the buses came. The principal and Ms. Dashner came out to us with a garbage bin and didn't say a single word. One by one, we got up and threw our signs in the bin. Ms. Dashner had tears in her eyes as she hugged each of us in turn. We got on our buses and went home.

The next Monday we were presented with our long-term substitute teacher, Ms. Anne Pier. (See blog post from yesterday about Earth Day.)

We were a bunch of little liberals in training... testing the limits of free speech in the small world we lived in. I felt closure. I felt accomplishment. I felt respected.

1 comment:

  1. 1969-70 was the year of elementary school protests, I guess. At William B. Travis Elementary in Port Arthur, TX, the girls in my 6th grade class staged a protest so we could wear pants. It was extremely cold that winter -- well, what passes for "extremely cold" in Southeast Texas -- and we were freezing in our micro-minis. The school dress code prohibited girls from wearing pants, so we staged a sit-in at the library -- complete with banners and tambourines, chanting, "We want pants! We want pants!"

    We signed a petition and turned it in to the office. It all worked. After about an hour, our teacher, Miss Boss (great name, huh) and our principal, Mrs. Allred (and she had all-red hair, no less) came in and said we had won. The only stipulation was, no jeans -- dress pants only.

    Next day, all the girls were in pants. Power to the (little) people!

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