Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, S.C. He is a blogger for the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Posts By This Author
Mango — A Haiku
Poor, Small, Broken — Beautiful
I received a galimoto for Christmas. In case you didn't know, a galimoto is a toy vehicle created out of sticks, cornstalks, wire or anything children can take into their hands and make into a thing with wheels. Mine is a bicycle made of wire. There is a wire child in colorful cloth on the bicycle seat, a rider whose legs pedal as the wheels move. It is beautiful in its simplicity, astonishing in its complexity. It came from the hands of a child in Kenya. I love it.
I brought my galimoto to school and introduced it to my third-grade students. They held it in their hands, marveled at its design, and pushed it around the classroom. "A kid made this?" Matthew asked. "Amazing!"
We looked at a globe and located South Carolina and Kenya. We flew with our fingers from Greenville across the Atlantic Ocean across Africa to Nairobi. We wondered what it would be like to live there. What would the weather be like? What foods would we eat? What kind of house would we live in? What clothes would we wear? What would our school be like? What would our parents do? What would we play with? "I know what we would play with," said Syleana with a smile. "A galimoto!"
We took a picture walk through the book Galimoto written by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Catherine Stock. "What do you notice when you look at the cover of the book?" I asked.
"It looks like the little boy is poor," answered Zaniya.
"Why do you think he's poor?" I continued.
One morning, I walked out the front doors of the center and turned down Jefferson Street toward the Ohio River. There, huddled in a circle beside the wall of our building, was a group of worn, ragged homeless men. I knelt down with them and said, "Hello."
One of the men smiled a toothless smile at me, reached into his coat, pulled out a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, took a swig, and passed it to me. "Here," he said. "Have a drink."
It was truly a John Irving moment. Here I was offering my alcoholic friend a “hello” and he offering his ministerial friend a drink. He was offering me the thing that was most important to him.
'In Our Hearts, We Won Them All'
I attended a basketball banquet and a girls team gathered together on the stage. Their coach gave a small speech before she introduced each player. "We didn't win any games this season," she lamented, "but in our hearts we won them all." Wow! What a quote! "In our hearts we won them all." I'll always remember it and hold it in my heart.
Not long after that banquet, I heard a story on National Public Radio about a high school girls basketball team in Texas that lost a game 100-0. I found an article about the game written by Barry Horn for the Dallas Morning News. Horn wrote, "Later on the 100-0 night, Civello [the losing coach] told his girls the life lesson they could take from their loss: 'I told them someday they will be on top in a similar situation and they should remember how they felt when some people were cheering for a team to score a hundred points and shut us out. Hopefully, my girls all learned a lesson in sportsmanship that will last a lifetime.'"
Climbing Into Their Skin
In The Last Shot, Frey has written a compassionate book. It is truly a compass that guides us into the sneakers and the hearts of children growing up in the housing projects of Coney Island, New York — inner-city kids defying the law of nature by growing in a tough place like flowers growing through concrete.
It is truly passionate about basketball and life, basketball as it is loved by children, coaches, and communities ... life as it is felt through the hearts of people who know human beings are human beings and not commodities.
Kids Say the Profoundest Things
I asked a small group of second-graders what they would like to find inside their mailboxes. That was after we read a story about a goose who opened her mailbox and found a kite. I expected to hear answers of things: video games, toys or basketballs. But the first student who raised her hand looked at me with sincere, big brown eyes and said, "I'd like to find a letter from my dad."
In my classroom, my kids say the profoundest things.
As we entered the holiday season, I thought about the answer that student gave me. I thought about what other of my 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds were saying about the holiday season.
For three years, I lived and worked in a large housing project in Louisville, Ky. I was a middle-class, white graduate student, and my background clouded how I saw the people around me. But I finally began to see clearly.
I learned from an article in The Sun magazine that the word eccentric comes from a Greek word that describes objects in space that don't revolve around the earth. The Greeks in ancient times saw Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and observed that they wandered through the sky moving in a seemingly aimless way. They called these planets asteres planetai (wandering stars). The planets were not, however, wandering. They were revolving around the sun. It was the finite view of human beings that made them seem like wanderers.
Human eccentrics move in a seemingly aimless way, too. Their movements make them seem like wanderers to other human beings with finite views. They don't wander aimlessly, though. They revolve around a different center.
Editor's Note: The following is a poem written by Trevor Scott Barton following reading The Violence of Love by Archbiship Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980.
longing for a hero,
living love, peace and hope,
protecting ordinary people from extraordinary hatred and violence,
dying for the cause but not killing for it,
denying guns and bombs their power,
risking the violence of love.
Conserving tradition at first for the greatest,
seeing through your glasses at last for the least,
feeling the hunger of underpaid workers,
knowing the poverty of farmers,
hearing the warning, "Here's what happens to priests who get involved in politics,”
holding tears of the disappeared.
calling all to view the liberating body of a slain priest,
serving the poor,
using words to build up humanity and tear down injustice,
"In the name of God, stop killing ..."
Editor's Note: Trevor Scott Barton wrote this poem after reading Subtle Is The Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais.
experiencing a miracle
trembling with excitement
creating a world of thought
Euclidian Geometry in a small book
flying certainly away from the miraculous
finding the miraculous in clarity and certainty
Rydberg's Constant = 2π2em/h3c
landing uneasily in chaos
wandering and wondering in the quantum universe
God playing symphonies on strings
I remember the first time I saw the movie Awakenings. I was living at Jeff Street Baptist Center and working with a community of inner-city teenagers from the Clarksdale housing projects in Louisville, Ky.
Monday nights were Dollar Movie Nights for us and we would load up in our orange van (affectionately called The Great Pumpkin) and head out to the theater. On that Monday night I chose Awakenings as our movie of the week, hoping that my kids would identify with the 'helping each other overcome' theme in the story. My dream was deferred. They hated it!
Within 15 minutes of the start of the movie they were throwing popcorn at the screen. We got up and changed theaters to something faster paced with more action. I had to promise to check my movie choices with them before they agreed to go with me again.
Art in Life
We were walking up the beach, on the sand as the tide moved out toward the ocean. I was holding Zeke's hand, talking with him about sea things. "I didn't know jellyfish swam this close to the shore during the spring," he said in 5-year-old wonderment. "I bet that drift wood is as old as The Old Man and the Sea. I think a horseshoe crab's blood can be used to treat cancer."
"Look," I said.
"What is it, Dad?" he asked.
I picked up a shell out of the deep, hot sand and held it in my open hand.
Nurturing An Inner Voice
During my first year as a second-grade teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I am a soft-spoken person by nature and habit. I didn't have the experience to help me set up great rules and procedures for my students. My classroom was noisy and chaotic. I think you could hear us all around the school.
A well-meaning colleague stopped me one day after school and offered, "Trevor, you need to find your teacher voice. Most of the children at our school won't listen to you unless you yell at them. You need to show them who's boss."
After five years of teaching, I agree that it is important to find your teacher voice. I disagree, however, that your teacher voice needs to be mean and bossy. I found my voice. It’s nurturing and supportive and one that students can internalize for positive growth and change.
I thought about this teacher voice when I met 7-year-old Maria. On her first day in reading intervention classroom, she made a mistake on a skill sheet. She asked for an eraser but I said, "Don't worry if you make a mistake. You don't have to erase it. Just cross it out and fix it. I'll never be angry with you if you make a mistake. I just want you to try to fix it."
A Lesson in Selflessness
Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.
It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.
“Beep, beep,” sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends – Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa – greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.
We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.
A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, “How do we follow Jesus?”
An Offering of Self
This morning, Madu walked the one kilometer path from his village to my house. He is married to Sirima and they have two children: four-year-old Sira, who they call Bonnie, and two-year-old Musa, who they call Papa. He told me that Papa had burned his hand and wrist in the morning cooking fire.
Maybe the path to civility and peace can be found somewhere along the path from my house to Madu’s village.
“Do you have any medicine for a burn?” he asked.
There is a hospital in our small town on the southwestern edge of Mali, but its small staff of doctors serve a large population of people without the use of technology, electricity, or even running water. Many times people come to me for help and healing before they go to the hospital because I have free first aid supplies, a generator, and a deep water well. I consulted my ragged copy of Where There Is No Doctor and turned to the section on the treatment of burns.
Washing dishes. This is how I remember Momadu.
Washing dishes is a chore, you know. In the pre-dishwasher days in America, my mom put "wash the dishes" on my list of things to do every day. I washed them, obediently though begrudgingly.
In the pre-dishwasher days in Mali, though, we asked Momadu to wash the dishes, and he washed them with joy.
How could he do something as mundane as washing dishes and do it with joy?
To Free a Mockingbird
September 30 - October 6 was Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read.
Surprisingly, Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird makes the list of frequently banned books.
To Kill A Mockingbird changed my life.
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view," says Harper Lee through Atticus, "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
How much have I learned as a teacher and a writer by thinking about every person I meet with that consideration?
Who Are Our Galileos?
When Galileo saw this in the 16th century, it cemented the idea that Venus goes around the sun and not the Earth. It was the beginning of the end for an Earth-centered universe.
Galileo was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist. He became known as the father of science.
He was a wonderer, and his wondering encouraged him to think differently from his fellow Pisans. When he was a child, people said, "He has stars in his eyes."
My Morning Prayer
As my son Zeke says in his daily prayers, so I say in our prayer this morning, "Thank you for all of the good things in the world."
One of those good things happened to me when I stopped by the water company to pay my bill. I walked into the building and stopped at the receptionist's desk to borrow a pen to write the check. I heard a family behind me and turned a saw a small child leading her mother by the hand, a mother carrying a baby in the cradle of her arm. The child listened to her Mother speak to her in Spanish, then looked at the receptionist and asked in English, "Can you show us where to pay our bill."
Suddenly and surprisingly the child looked up at me and threw her arms around me in a happy hug. "Mr. Barton!" she said. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Barton!"
Echoes of the Poor People's Campaign
In early 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders continued plans for a Poor People’s Campaign. It would take place in the spring in Washington, D.C. The poor and those in solidarity with them would take up temporary residence and march peacefully on the Capitol and advocate for substantial anti-poverty legislation from Congress. They would demand jobs, healthcare, and decent housing.
People set up a camp on the Washington Mall and called it Resurrection City. Jesse Jackson gave his famous "I Am Somebody" speech there. But King was assassinated in the weeks leading up to the campaign and Robert Kennedy was assassinated during it. Disheartened and discouraged, people drifted away from the campaign, their dreams deferred.
What if MLK had lived to lead the campaign with his insight and eloquence? What if Bobby Kennedy had lived to support it with his doggedness and political will? Would the United States be a place where 1 out of 5 children, around 15.5 million, are in poverty and where close to 50 million people are without health insurance?
Love Bug: Kids Flourish When We Focus on Their Strengths
Bralyan loves bugs.
I met him during the first week of school as I conducted the standard assessment of how many words he could read per minute from a second-grade story. After the assessment, I gave him the customary caterpillar sticker to put on his shirt to show everyone that he was going to emerge as a great reader during his second-grade year.
You would have thought that I had given him a piece of gold.
"Oooh, I love bugs," he marveled as I handed him the sticker. "I have seen caterpillars around the trees at my apartment. They spin a chrysalis and turn into butterflies.
“Have you seen a roly poly bug?,” he continued. “They're my favorites!"
And so a friendship began around the pyrrharctia isabella, the armadillidum vulgar and other bugs that make up the most diverse group of animals on the planet.
This interaction told me some crucial things about Bralyan. It told me he is a smart kid, and it also told me that keeping him engaged in school would likely include bugs.
I later learned that Bralyan and his family moved here from Mexico when he was a baby. His mom and dad speak only Spanish at home. He speaks English at school.