Following the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a 19-year-old gunman, I watched the response of the nation.
I tend to do this amid all of the many cases of mass shootings, police brutality, and sexual assault surface. I watch the news, read articles and opinion pieces, and share thoughts in discussions with family and friends. But where I've really gained insight on the pulse of the people is on social media sites like Twitter and in comment sections of articles. The part of the nation who breathes hate for humanity seems to be feeling liberated in these times not only through their Twitter fingers but in their actions as well.
I am often left wondering how can another human being wake up everyday releasing hate into the world? How can another human being be opposed to reasonable gun control legislation when children are being murdered before they've had a chance to live? How can another human being justify the killing of unarmed Black men and women solely based on skin color? How can another human being encourage sexual assault and rape culture by perpetuating the "boys will be boys" ideology?
It baffles me. I have so many unanswered questions on when exactly the lack of human care begins to happen in an individual, and why.
Though our nation is wrapped up in the gun control debate right now, I strongly believe that we have to deal with education reform immediately. I currently teach at an elementary school where I have taught for the last six years. I teach grades PK-4, ages 3-9. My school has been named one of the most diverse schools in our area. At these ages, students are exploring, learning, and expressing themselves. In observing my students, I've noticed in grades PK-1st, obvious evidence of care regardless of cultural, racial, or gender differences. If PK-1st grade students notice a friend is hurt, they find ways to comfort him or her, apologies generally come easy, and they speak to one another respectfully.
A shift begins happening in 2nd-4th grades. Friendship groups begin to develop, the term "bullying" begins to surface, sometimes apologies are like pulling teeth, and race and gender opinions start to form. Throughout a child's scholastic life, social curriculum is just as important as academic curriculum. How students learn to treat one another and communicate with one another in spite of their differences starts in elementary school.
If there is no balance between social instruction and academic instruction at all grade levels, the educational system will continue to fail our children.
Along with a strong social curriculum, one of the most important factors is who is designing and teaching the curriculum. During the academic year, teachers spend more time with children than their parents. If a child is in sports after school or on weekends, that is more time spent with another adult other than their parents. Teachers have the power to help students navigate through their toughest times and help foster in them the necessary tools it takes to be civil contributors to society.
Teachers hold the very pulse of the next generation in our hands, and it's important for us to bring this sense of urgency to what we teach and how we teach it. Though many stray from teaching because the pay is low and the stress is high, which is understandable, the classroom must be filled with people who stand up and speak out against injustice and will fuel that same passion in children. Teachers of color especially. The best lesson a child can receive is to experience a wonderful teacher who looks like the people society teaches them to hate.
Teaching is by far the ultimate form of resistance.
I pray for the day when I no longer have to write notes to myself on my lesson plans about how to shelter in place if there is an active shooter in my school. I pray for the day that my gender isn't seen as a sexual object but an equal and viable part of this society. I pray for the day that I don't have to hear my Black male students share strategies on what to do to not to get killed if they are pulled over by the police.
I believe that the voices of children will be the very thing that makes the change we all seek happen. However, this can't happen without the teacher at the forefront. With the right teachers and school leaders in place, the "someday" that civil rights activists sang about in "We Shall Overcome" could very well happen today.
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