Study Guide

Kwanzaa and Me

by Vivian Gussin Paley

Kwanzaa and Me Essay - Critical Essays

Kwanzaa and Me

KWANZAA AND ME is “A Teacher’s Story” by an articulate and dedicated teacher who has taught at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for years, and who has written and lectured widely on early education. The original motivation behind the book is the fact that fewer African American families are sending their children to her school; they are opting for the all-black schools which give their children more cultural support. (Kwanzaa is the African American holiday meant to honor the virtues that strengthen community—such as unity, industry, creativity.)

Paley wants to know whether her multicultural, integrated educational dream is serving all students, and whether there is more that teachers can do to help African American children, as well as others, fit into the classroom. KWANZAA AND ME is a series of dialogues Paley has with teachers across the country, as well as with the parents of her own students. (Interspersed with this dialogue is a fairy story she has created for her own students that reflects some of these same issues.) What she discovers is a cliche—and a revolutionary truth. She reiterates the importance of family and of community, for all students. She also discovers that racism, particularly institutional racism, may be built into every educational situation, no matter how well-meaning the teachers. At the same time, she discovers dedicated parents and teachers who are working to make the classroom a better place, a place where her dream can be fulfilled: “we may discover that individuality is and always has been the greatest commonality we share. And some day, when nonconformity itself becomes the tradition, our children and we ourselves will be ready to accept as a matter of course the many images of humankind.”