“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
This is not the back-to-school blog I wanted to write. After more than 2,000 miles on the road last week meeting with presidents of OFT locals, and with more visits scheduled in the next two weeks, I wanted to share with you plans our members have for the upcoming school year. I wanted to tell you about how I intend to observe classrooms throughout the year to see firsthand the creativity and expertise our educators bring to the learning process. I wanted to bring you a message of hope. This past weekend’s incident in Charlottesville, Va., compels me to write a different narrative.
I was fortunate to have been brought up in a home where hate was not ever a consideration. I never thought about color or that I should treat someone differently simply because that person did not look like me, believe like me or love like me. Granted, in my small town, I did not have a lot of exposure to diversity, but as I grew into an adult, the values instilled in me led me to “do unto others as I would have them do unto me” regardless of how they looked or chose to worship.
At my age, you would think that I have seen and heard it all; however, I am still stunned by the level of hatred that exists in our country. I am fortunate that I have never personally been a victim of it, yet I hurt and fear for those I love as well as for all the millions of people I have never met who are victims of hate every day.
I know that many of you are like me. You are stunned, shocked, and angry. I hope that we never stop feeling that way – that we never become immune to hate. But these emotions and reactions we feel are not enough. We have to act in some way. In these situations, I always go back to who I am – who we are. We are educators. So we teach.
Our federal and state governments mandate what we must teach at school – those things that are tested and by which our schools and teachers are judged. Our society and our conscience demand that we do much more.
Our students need us to teach:
Openness to new ideas – Some people might call this tolerance, and tolerance is certainly needed, but I think it needs to go further than that. Simply tolerating is not enough. Our students need to approach differences with a sense of curiosity and with a desire to understand. We need to give them opportunities to explore differences and to ask questions and to have discussions with an open mind.
Empathy – Our students need to understand that just because they have never experienced prejudice or hate or mistreatment of some type does not mean that it has not happened elsewhere in their world. We need to teach our children to listen to what another person is saying and to try to experience it from that other point of view rather than denying the experience or trying to justify it in some way.
How to find commonalities – We need to teach our children that instead of focusing on differences, they should look for commonalities and/or shared experiences. Our children should know that some students may speak a different language, be a different color, follow a different religion, come from a different country, but those students probably still like to play games at recess, share secrets, listen to music, and watch TV. Our children should understand that deep and rich friendships can be formed from these commonalities if they are willing to give them a chance.
Conflict resolution – Our students should learn that they are not always going to agree with everyone – and that is ok. Sometimes they are even going to be upset by something that has been said or done. What’s important is how our students handle those situations. We need to teach our children the skills for dealing with conflict and for confronting hurtful situations in a productive way.
Courage to stand up against hate and prejudice – Children are going to see and hear inappropriate language and behavior. The temptation is for them to follow along with the crowd. This growing problem is evident in the amount of bullying, particularly cyberbullying, that is being reported. Our classrooms need to be safe places where students can stand up to this kind of behavior and be supported in calling it out as inappropriate.
How to choose the right role models – Our children need to learn that not all adult behavior is appropriate behavior. Just because the president of the United States uses social media as a platform for bullying people does not mean that it is acceptable behavior to emulate. We need to expose our children to adults who are worthy role models – people in history, in the media, in our communities, who demonstrate the qualities I have listed above. More importantly, we need to be those role models ourselves.
Interestingly, if you ever watch a group of young children play together, the truth is that the above behaviors are what actually come naturally to them. Children, by nature, are curious, loving, accepting individuals who just want to enjoy life. Our role as educators is to nurture that natural beautiful spirit that resides within our children and to give them a learning environment that reinforces the positive behaviors, rejects intolerance and hateful behavior, and provides opportunities for exploring and embracing differences.
Read the AFT press release on the Charlottesville incident here.
For teacher submitted lesson plans on civil rights, bullying and helping students cope with traumatic events, please visit Share My Lesson.