I am working with Juan Carlos and Yosef on compare and contrast–reading a text and noticing within it similarities and differences between two things it addresses. We began by sorting picture cards into categories, worked up to a Venn Diagram for cats versus dogs, and are now reading targeted informational pieces at a fourth grade reading level: this city and that city, this woman and that man. Because this coming weekend includes the Martin Luther King day holiday, I present my boys with the passage, “Two Men of Peace.”
We, alas, cannot get to the second man of peace before his holiday weekend commences. Because first, we take turns reading the paragraphs about Cesar Chavez. When Juan Carlos learns, as he has over the past two years during Chavez’s month in his general education class, that Chavez led a movement to boycott grapes, he pays attention this time to the meaning of the term. “To boycott something is to refuse to buy it”, says the passage.
Juan Carlos’ brow furrows. “I’m angry at Cesar Chavez. I disagree with him. If I were alive when Cesar Chavez was alive, I would yell at him, because he is very very wrong.”
Struck by the transformation of my previously Sí se puede progressive into Nixon-era fruit company apologist, I ask for clarification.
“Cesar Chavez is wrong to boycott the grapes. I eat them all the time, because they are delicious. Frickin’ Cesar Chavez can’t tell us not to eat them.” Juan Carlos, for the record, saves the adjective “frickin” for only the things he most stridently opposes, typically things in history that he does not understand. When he uses it for slaveholders, my objections are perfunctory.
Here, though, it was necessary to defend Cesar Chavez’ good name. Question, if you like, the man’s stance on immigration, but the necessity of a boycott needed to be brought home. I thought for a moment as he continued his rant.
“Juan Carlos, I need to tell you something very important about Cesar Chavez. You see, Cesar Chavez thought grapes were delicious, too.”
I could watch the gears in motion as he turned that around. “What the? He did? But he told people not to buy them. Why would he do that, if he thought they were delicious?”
“The grapes were delicious, but the people who owned the fields where they grew did not treat the people picking grapes the right way. What if I told you that the people who picked the grapes had to work all day, from sunrise to sunset, without taking a break? What if I told you that there weren’t bathrooms for them to go to? What if the workers worked just that hard, every day, and then the money they made wasn’t enough to buy enough food and clothes for their families? The grapes weren’t the problem, Juan Carlos. The problem was, the way the grapes were picked and sold wasn’t the right way. So Cesar Chavez told people not to buy them anymore, until the people who mistreated the farm workers changed their actions.”
“Cesar Chavez helped make a change in the fruit business. He helped the workers get more money, and bathrooms, and other better things. The boycott didn’t last forever: we can buy grapes again now.”
“I’m glad we can buy them. I like them in my lunch.”
And then, like a sign, it was actually lunchtime. If my life were an After-School Special, I would have sat down, then, with Juan Carlos and Yosef and their multiracial, typically developing peers, and cheerful music would play in the background as we smiled together about how far we’d come. There would, of course, be enough grapes for everyone, practically spilling from Juan Carlos’ Spiderman lunchbox. As it was, I folded both boys’ papers in half, saying we’d read about King another day. I sent them off to lunch and went back to my paperwork, which I shuffled for two minutes before rushing to the yard.
Nevertheless, I was pleased with that episode.