Third Graders and the White House

Every Thursday for the past three weeks I have gone to work at Kenilworth Elementary School, located in the far eastern corner of the Potomac-cut diamond that is the District of Columbia (marked A to the right, courtesy of Google Maps).

I do this work as a part of the Georgetown program DC Reads, in which this is now my fourth semester participating. In any case, (I'd like to make today's post relatively short), this semester I have been going into a third grade classroom and being a teachers aid, so far leading varying groups of 3-5 kids in science, reading and social studies activities.

Today the teacher asked me to do an activity on the White House with four boys in the class, first reading out of a textbook, then going online to look at pictures of the grounds and rooms, and then writing and drawing a little. Mostly, however, we talked - and I think some very interesting (and amusing) things came up in our discussion which fueled my belief that the role of the educator is not to impart lessons, but to facilitate growth and reflection.

As we read that the White House has over 130 rooms, one boy asked why the President doesn't have other people live with him, such as the homeless. I thought this was great, and seized upon it to ask more questions, such as whether the boys thought the President was rich, and whether he deserved to be rich. Of the four, only one thought of the President as poor, seeming to think so because "black people are poor, and white people are rich." Another boy, who was the other of the two most talkative in the group, very much disputed this, saying that some black people could be rich and some white could be poor. Indeed, after we went on the computers, he would look at the pictures of lavish White House rooms and exclaim repeatedly "And you don't think a black man can be rich?!"

One funny point in our talks was when I asked how long Obama would get to live in the White House. Everyone agreed that presidents lived there until they died - so after explaining the four-year election cycle to the boys, they were quite surprised to learn that President Bush is still alive.

Today is the kind of day that makes me love thinking about becoming a teacher. I think it really proves how thoughtful and intelligent children can be, and that when they are truly interested in a subject - and when their mentor prompts them to think while always showing appreciation for their input - wonderful things can happen.


  1. It sounds like you were a great facilitator for these boys...and you learned from them as well they from you. That would be so awesome if you could take the boys to visit the white house as an end-of-the-year celebration of their (and your) learning.


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