When I was a 6th grader in Cowan, Indiana, I had spiked hair, wore fluorescent orange shirts with spandex shorts, and religiously followed the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was 1990, don’t judge.
I spent most of my time in the classroom mastering prepositional phrases and daydreaming about recess. I was not learning about Western History through the lens of multiple perspectives, including the stories of those within my own community, to better understand across difference and master the art of listening to be a more empathetic member of society.
That came later in life. Like, late high school or early college. Actually, I’m still honing my listening skills and developing forms of empathy I never knew existed; I’m growing in these areas as The Facing Project continues to spread and tough topics are faced.
What if I told you that 6th graders are learning how to be good listeners and empathetic neighbors?
Over the past few months, students at Inspire Academy in Muncie, Indiana, have explored 3,000 years of Western History through traditional readings, and not so traditional methods. Each student was partnered with an individual in Muncie who has been labeled as “the other” at some point in their life due to religious affiliation, race, disability, or sexual orientation. The students met with their community partners, got to know them through various meetings, and then created a photo and narrative mosaic, “Identity: Searching Inside Ourselves.”
Lessons learned from the community partners were compared to struggles throughout history, and explored in class through open dialogue on basic rights and the impact on the overall human condition.
I was honored to have been chosen as one of the community partners the students studied. I began my journey with the class in January, and it culminated with their mosaic which opened last Thursday at Cornerstone Center for the Arts in Muncie. Every step of the way over the past several weeks the students asked thoughtful, respectful questions. Often I would forget I was working with 6th graders because their maturity and intelligence was way beyond any 6th graders I’d ever met.
I’ve posted on social media the past few months how blown away I’ve been by their work, and now I want you to meet them.
I sat down with the class and their teacher, Mr. Ari Hurwitz, for our latest installment of the Facing Stories Series.
Kudos to Ari for guiding the students during this venture and for giving Western History a more vibrant, relatable overhaul. If these students continue throughout life with the same attitudes they now have at the end of this project, they will go far.
Overall, this process has restored my faith in humanity. Thank you, Ari and the 6th grade crew.
If you are near the Muncie, Indiana, area, be sure to check out the students’ exhibit, “Identity: Searching Inside Ourselves,” on the 2nd floor of Cornerstone Center for the Arts. It will run through June 30th.