Photo from the Seattle Times. I’m thinking right now about Dr. King, the greatest American who ever lived. Tomorrow we celebrate his life as we observe his birthday. I wish I got the day off.
Back when I was a high school Spanish teacher, I enjoyed whipping my students into a frenzy for the Weihnachtssingfest that Frau Z proposed one year; she taught her German classes some German Christmas carols, and I taught my classes some villancicos; we got our classes together the day before Christmas break, the Germans would sing their little songs first, and then my class would go second.
And when I say “whipping my students into a frenzy” what I mean is that I demanded that my students go hard or go home. If they’re going to slouch in front of the Germans hiding behind songsheets as they moused out the lyrics off key and with no energy, then I’d sooner give an exam, because I am not going to be any part of a borefest. They would have to memorize their lyrics, sing hard, knock out some choreography, and costumes… oh yes, costumes. I was happily surprised to see my students rise to the challenge, and it made me realize… nobody wants to suck. American kids want to be the best.
The most important thing of all that I required of them was to be gracious to the Germans, including providing them with delicious snacks and cheering enthusiastically for their presentation… even if it sucks.
So in the week before the Weihnachtssingfest my students were studying for their quiz and learning their counts and their harmonies and deciding who would give the “Welcome Germans” speech, who was playing Jesús, María, y José in the Nativity, and whose mom could make “Welcome Germans” cookies. Of course my students saw Frau’s students around campus and in the cafeteria, and that’s when the smack talk started…. who was going to have a better presentation at the Weihnachtssingfest. The Germans thought they finally had a shot one year, it turned out their top secret strategy was to wrap a tall boy in some Christmas lights during “O Tannenbaum.”
Anyway, smack talk is not in the spirit of the Weihnachtssingfest, let alone Weihnacht itself, so I put the kabosh on it: NO SMACKTALK. My students were like “but but but they are hating on us and we’re going to be so much better than them!”
And that’s when I dropped Dr. King on them.
Dr. King said only love can conquer hate, children. You fight hate with hate, you get more hate. You fight hate with anything but love, and you will not conquer hate. Love conquers hate. I don’t care if they talk smack, I don’t care if they hit you with water cannons and attack dogs. You let them hate you, and you repay them with love. That’s what Dr. King taught us. They are not the enemy; their hate is our enemy.
So my students started answering the smack talk with “I can’t wait to see you guys sing in German, I know it’s going to be awesome!” which infuriated the Germans even more, and the temptation was to step it up. That’s when both classes started to realize, though, that repaying smack talk with love was not only Non Violent Direct Action, but it was also hilarious. Repaying hate with love, and then watching someone get more furious is a laugh riot. Because escalating about Weihnachtssingfest is totally ridiculous.
Just like segregation.
Let’s get to the Promised Land together.