Many of Yang Li's students were seeing snow for the first time. When Atlanta got two inches - a major event - Yang knew her kids would want to talk about it. So she gathered them on the rug and passed around a native American "talking stick" to make sure each kid got a turn to tell his or her story, while the others listened.
[Today's blog is by Cindy Lutenbacher, mom of an ICS 2007 graduate. Last year, she volunteered weekly in the first-grade class where Bill Clinton Hadam's brother Igey started at ICS. She kept a diary, and we'll be posting excerpts here occasionally. Today's entry is from Jan. 22, 2008.]Behtoo, from Burma, went first: "I got the snow from the car and I throw a snowball at my brother." Muzna, from Somalia followed: "I maked a snowball and I throwed it at my sister's jacket. My mom say, Who throwed a snowman on the baby?' "
And so on. Each snowball thrown received an unreined round of laughter, with the ante upped each time the talking stick moved around the circle.
"I threw a snowball at my father's jacket!" "I threw a snowball at my sister's pants!" "I threw a giant snowball at my ..." The hilarity got a little too uproarious, and kids without the talking stick were interrupting the speaker. Yang explained the rules.
"I got the idea of the talking stick from Ms. Kimimila who teaches sixth grade at our school," she said. "Ms. Kimimila is native American, and the talking stick is her people's tradition. It is a good thing because some people like to talk, talk, talk, and no one else gets a chance to talk. So the talking stick is a very respectful way of listening."
The lesson mostly took. When kids slipped up, Yang reminded them: "True? I'm sorry, but you don't have the talking stick." True, a respectful, US-born boy with magnificent braids caught himself with an "oops" clap over his mouth.
When it was Max's turn, another US-born kid upped the ante - all the way. "I threw a snowball on her underwear!!!" Roar. "Then I threw it at her butt!!! And I made a snowman and punched him and jumped on him and punched his head off. And Snowman got mad and punched me, and I punched his head off again. I punched him in the weeds and he punched me, and I punched him down again. And I threw snowballs in my mom's back and I punched the snow."
I lost track of how many punches Max threw. I was surprised that Yang did not interrupt him, but I think now she was right to be patient. If she had stopped him, he might still be finding ways to throw punches.
Hard to know where to draw lines.