Oh, yeah. I fathered children, that’s how.
It all began when my son, the scion, was in first grade at Kitty Stone Elementary School. At some point he mentioned to his teacher that I had some Indian artifacts and, without consulting me beforehand, he added that I would be happy to come talk to the class about Native Americans. Or maybe it was the teacher who, knowing I was a historian, figured I must know something about Indians, so she asked me to come over.
Or maybe it was a combination thereof, but whatever the reason, the fact that I had a son in the first grade was the critical factor.
So I was invited to speak to “Big Group.”
“Big Group” is created when the various first-grade classes are brought together for a special program — like one on Native Americans.
In they come, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, happy to be out of the classroom no matter what the occasion. Formed into lines and told to be quiet, they take their places on the floor, looking up at me while I talk to and with them.
When they see what I have brought — pictures, pottery, arrowheads and such — the buzz of whispering begins. Teachers quiet them down.
Then I am introduced.
Years ago, some of the children would know me because they knew my son and, a few years later, my daughter, who came along after and gave the teachers another reason (excuse?) to invite me. So the pattern was set — and even though my son today is off at college and my daughter is in high school, I still get invited.
And I begin.
I show them an Indian headdress from the Great Plains and then show them a picture of an Alabama Indian and ask them to tell me the difference.
(A word of warning here: Never, ever, ever ask “Big Group” if there are any questions. Hands will shoot up, and if you call on someone you are just as likely to get a story about how their uncle found an arrowhead as a question about anything you have said. And once you let the uncle-with-the-arrowhead get out, everyone will want to top it. If you are going to ask a question, make it specific, or forget the whole thing.)
Then I show them pictures of Indian villages and talk about how the villagers lived.
Next come out the arrowheads.
My collection is small and not in the best of shape. My father grew up near Wetumpka, right in the heart of the Creek Nation. As a boy, he found scores of Indian artifacts. They disappeared over the years, but I have what is left and proudly display them.
The kids are always impressed.
Then I show them a Creek bowl, a replica made by a lady who lives up north of here. Then we talk about Indian food. It is at this point I pull out the grindstone. This is my treasure. Daddy found it in the roots of an old tree, where it was likely put long ago for safe keeping.
Now the teachers call on the students they identified earlier to come up and grind corn — I have brought some. After a few minutes of trying to turn grain into meal, the kids are convinced that being an Indian was hard work.
All the while, teachers are keeping order and I am trying to fend off questions that are really statements, which are really stories. It is constant motion, constant action and constant learning.
Then I am done. The children are lined up again and they troop back into the classroom to gather their books and be dismissed.
I am exhausted.
Nevertheless, it is always a good experience because it confirms to me that anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid and under-worked don’t have a clue. One hour with “Big Group” will quiet those critics. There isn’t enough money in Montgomery to adequately compensate teachers for the job they do.
I also come away convinced that college teachers like myself should do “Big Group” at least once a year just to remind us what a cushy job we have — at least where teaching is concerned. No matter how difficult it may be to motivate a freshman, keeping a first-grader involved and learning, while at the same time keeping order, ranks at the top of the difficulty scale.
Lastly, I am again convinced that no legislator should be allowed to vote on an education bill until they have spent a day as a teacher in a public school. I am not sure how good that would be for the kids, but for the legislator, it would be a revelation.
And legislators, like college teachers, need revelations every once and a while.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and an editorial writer and columnist for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.