Friday, July 18, 2008

My Old Kentucky Home

The children and I have begun laying the groundwork for a fun project next week. We are going to do a State notebook. I have really enjoyed doing a little research and determining what things we will include in our notebooks. Each child will do one, just with varying levels of difficulty and Sophie's will be primarily narration and coloring. There has been some nostalgia involved in the process for me, as well, since I have had some vivid memories of doing one of these during my elementary years at HSCA.( though mine was obviously a Floridian one!) It is amazing to me what the advancement of technology has done to the research process! I remember having to laboriously look through every letter of the Encyclopedia for the info I needed! Now, EVERYTHING one could desire to learn is at your fingertips through the Internet. For good measure, we will still be including book research done at the library simply because Mommy thinks that the tangibility of a book makes things come alive more!

All of that stated, once again a task that should be simple when taken at face-value has me thinking...and perhaps issue. Example: I wanted to include the lyrics and a wee bit of history regarding our State Song: the lovely "My Old Kentucky Home" by Stephen Foster. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to hear many varying classic arrangements of this song via the delightful internet and YouTube. Digression: I even found a 1917 recording of the song being sung by Margaret Woodrow Wilson; the record was being sold at the time to raise funds for the Red Cross during WWI! How cool is that?! But then I also found what turned out to be my personal favorite; a recording by the legendary Paul Robeson, an African American who sang the song with its original lyrics referring to "darkies". He sang with so much pathos and sincerity that it is riveting. One school of thought states that the original lyrics were really referring to an abolitionist attempt to expose the plight of slaves at that time, particularly those being sold out of the state of Kentucky into the deep South where life was sure to be even more unbearable, and death was sure to come more quickly.'s such an uncomfortable topic and has been for so long that the words to the song were long ago changed and younger generations probably have no clue that the line stating "where the people are happy and gay" used to in fact say "where the darkies are happy and gay." The subsequent verses clearly talk more about the life of a slave. Replacing those words with general "people" terms does leave a reader in somewhat a state of confusion. In the context of slavery the whole song makes more sense. When you do a search for the lyrics of the song, you are more likely to find the revised version.

Is it intellectually/historically dishonest to have my children use the revised version in their notebooks and avoid the whole discussion of the controversy? They are ages 5, 7, and 9. Or do I go ahead and tell them what it used to be and what it is now, with as simple an explanation as I can muster?

So you see how I've managed to take a fun summer project and turn it into a full-blown historical debate?!? I really want to strike the balance between honesty, respect, and appropriate subject matter when dealing with these delicate topics. I want my children to know the truth: the question is when?
I would love to hear from all my readers what your opinion is on this. Should I include the original or revised lyrics? Or both?

UPDATE: I wanted to make somewhat of a disclaimer regarding my praise of singer, Paul Robeson. I would encourage my readers to "Google search" his name and read his biography. It is both an American triumph and tragedy. Obviously, he lived in a time in American history where he knew all too well the depth of racial prejudice. A visit to the Soviet Union in the 20's caused him to feel like a fully liberated human being for the first time in his life. Because of that, he was sympathetic toward and impressed by the concepts of socialism. It is a fascinating story. Nonetheless, this man had an amazingly soothing voice that still moves listeners even today.


Charity said...

I would go with the original. But then you know I tend to be pretty open on the issue of race, etc. I've even taken to asking African-Americans when I have the chance to tell me what THEY think of us whites, and racism, slavery, etc. to try to learn more. (My ancestors would turn over in their graves ;O)

Tara said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Charity! I was even thinking as I typed this, that I wish I had some black readers to weigh in on this...that would be a great perspective to have.

Charity said...

I had a few other thoughts, too. Of course, I wouldn't/haven't told much of this to Kathryn. I've introduced the race issue (without mentioning it) by discussing the inherent value of people because they're made in God's image and teaching her how to relate to others different from herself (the deaf/mute worker at Winn-Dixie, etc.) I know you do this kind of thing, too. I think it's an important foundation to the educational journey that you're embarking on.

Toots said...

I would use both as well...a wonderful opportunity to teach so much more than just state history! The younger ones will probably just grasp the surface of the issues, but that's OK. I'm sure you'll have many more opportunities to discuss them further in years to come.
I enjoyed learning that information myself! Fascinating!

Kimberly said...

1st...funny post below!:) She's such a cutie!

My brain is tired so I will be concise and not lengthy in my opinion here: I don't think I would use the original version at this point. The very good reason that we no longer use the "N" word and the "D" word is that it reduced and still reduces real people into streotypical roles and minimizes the injustices and suffering they endured. I can't think of a real good reason for young children to even be in contact with those words until more mature in their ability to process. (Of course Lauren could be but how could you do it w/her and not the others?) I would be interested to know how places such as that Underground Museum use such words...that could be a good guide on how to teach this best in a healthy context. What a great field trip that will be for your kiddos!

Kimberly said...

I meant Lauren could be the one with a more appropriate maturity level/processing level..i wasn't clear on
that. And it's "sterotypical"!!

Tara said...

Thanks so much for the input. I still don't know exactly how I'm going to handle it. Removing the context of slavery makes the song almost moot. But I'm still mulling it over!

Leah said...

What a wonderful summer project!! You are so creative!!