Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

What’s Your Pivot Point?

I went to see The Butler this past weekend with @Beckyfisher73. butler

Afterwards, we began talking about the power of this movie, and of course, with Becky being a detail dudette (as her family calls her), she began wondering how historically accurate it was, so she checked it out on Wikipedia, which states at least some of those inaccuracies. Despite those, we both feel this movie is pretty moving, and like Lincoln or 42, worth using in school or at the very least, recommending to parents that kids go see it to amplify their minds.

In this movie, there were several perspective shifting moments–pivot points, if you will, for changing perspectives, beliefs or behavior. This won’t be a spoiler post, but I will say that after serving 8 presidents as a White House butler, near the end of the movie, Cecil sits at a state dinner being served by the black butlers he has worked with for so many years. Experiencing something he has lived for many years from a different perspective, he has an epiphany that rocks his world.

It wasn’t that he welcomed that moment, but neither did he run from it.  And we wondered…

Do we, as human beings–adult or child–see those moments in our lives?

If we see them, do we ignore them, or embrace them?

We sometimes recognize them in hindsight–does it matter if our epiphany comes in the moment or later?

Do we seek out those opportunities to think deeply, wrestle with our beliefs and perhaps change our perspective or point of view?

How do we amplify our minds to have those experiences?

In the classroom, we do activities that ask kids to take a different point of view or write ‘in the voice of.” How do we do that authentically but put banks on the river?

For example, simulating slave auctions in the classroom is not right, but what is? I believe that making any kid feel inferior is just wrong.

I also believe we need to tap into deep emotion to have kids really experience a change of perspective.

I remember vividly an experience in my 4th grade classroom 15 or 16 years ago. I had to teach about the Civil War, and as I said in my last post I really don’t like violence and avoid it (reading about it, watching it, talking about it, whatever) if I possibly can.  I was sincerely worried about having to teach war to my kids, as I wasn’t sure how I would handle it.

So I did it through literature.  We read Carolyn Reeder’s Across the Lines together (a great point/counterpoint between two 10 year olds, a white landowner’s son, and his black servant who has run away). We watched some informational videos along with Jimmy Stewart’s Shenandoah.  ( I conveniently scheduled a lunch break when the marauders went upstairs at the farm after one of the son’s wives, and that part was over when we resumed after lunch.) The kids independently read other Civil War novels and brought that knowledge to our class discussions. We discussed various differences between the north and south and also used Elaine Marie Alphin’s Ghost Cadet to solidy some of that.

In one of our final discussions, I was sharing how I had been really nervous about teaching about the Civil War and how I was not looking forward to teaching bloody battles, and all the gore that goes with learning about war. I said I thought we’d done a pretty good job avoiding that piece, but learning about the war and all of its consequences, reasons for occurring and the people and its effect on them. One kid, Aaron, raised his hand and said something like, “I was afraid of the horror, too, when we first began. And, I thought the reasons for the war were pretty simple and straightforward. It was about slavery, which the North didn’t believe in and the South did. But as we talked and as I read, I realized the reasons for slavery and the war were more complicated than that, and that it was just like the title of Carolyn Reeder’s book, Shades of Grey–slavery was not black or white–it was shades of grey.”

In another powerful experience in my classroom a few years later, 5th graders explored  the displacement of people from the Blue Ridge Mountains during the “New Deal” era (What Price This Mountain?) and we created web pages to help organize our student research. I’ll never forget Sarah’s response, cited here.

So, the bottom line for me is to touch their hearts to find a pivot point and help students amplify their mind through thoughtful discourse, writing, thinking and pondering. I want to provide opportunities and books to find those pivot points–to help them be critical thinkers, considerate human beings and to get them to be thoughtful about not only their actions, but their belief systems.


Thanks a bunch to Becky, for the conversations that prompted this post!

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