In the last school day before Mother's Day, 8-year-old Frankie Munthe was eager to share his interpretation of "Mother to Son" with his classmates. He explained that it's about "roadblocks," referring to the poem's first line: "Well, son, I'll tell you. Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. It's had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor – Bare."
Written in 1922 by Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance and now regarded as a classic work, the poem is commonly taught in schools, but students may not encounter it until after junior high or even college. However, the introduction of Common Core State Standards in Tennessee has afforded even elementary school teachers the flexibility to use curriculum in ways that foster critical thinking skills and require students to explain and defend their observations.
"I find that they can feel and identify with that poem," Graham Farnsworth, Frankie's teacher, said of his second-grade class, "and things that are higher level. Did they hit that poem like they would in a college class? No. But did they get things out of it? I can still teach the standards but also get them to learn a little bit of something about their history and our history as Americans."