All of the kindergartners are crowding around their teacher. Today they find out who the "Happy Helper" is. This helper will get to do all kinds of special things at school today, like passing out paperwork and being the line leader. (It's a big deal when you're 5, trust me.) One of the most special parts about being the Happy Helper is that all of the children (and the teacher, how cool is that?) will draw him or her and the teacher will staple the booklet together. It's a really special thing and children look forward to it all week. My older son still looks at his Happy Helper book fondly. The kids drew his Batman shirt and spiky hair perfectly.
Today's "Happy Helper"is a little boy named Sam. The teacher points out all of the details on his clothing to make drawing him easier for his peers. He is wearing a red Anaheim Angels baseball cap, blue mesh shorts and black basketball shoes. As the children bring their crayons to their desks, they start drawing Sam as only 5-year-olds can: Big eyes, fluffy hair and bright red mouths that take up almost his entire face. It's endearing. One little boy, Jared, shows his portrait of Sam to Ms. Madison. Jared is African-American. Ms. Madison is African-American. Sam is Caucasian. None of this should matter, right? Well, Jared drew Sam with "brown skin because that's how he looks to me." I'm a fly on the wall in the classroom, but I am absolutely floored by this innocence. He doesn't see race. Sam is his friend, and that's that.
Ms. Madison tells Jared: "Look at your skin. Look at Sam's skin. They are not the same. Go back and draw him again." I must admit that I am crushed. I want to savor Jared's innocence forever. In an age where race defines so much, it is refreshing to melt into a kindergartner's good will.
I bring this conversation up with my friend. Her daughter, now 13, first learned about race through a similar assignment. She drew Martin Luther King Jr. with pink skin. The teacher corrected her and told her to change it to brown skin.
I know that children can't stay color blind forever. I know that Kindergarten teachers have an obligation to teach their students their colors. I just wish that it didn't have to come at the expense of the Happy Helpers.