Sunday, November 13, 2016

teaching tolerance

The day after Election Day, I was feeling sick. My stomach was twisted in knots, and my heart was too. I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and use one of my maternity leave days so I would not have to face the day ahead. 

The questions. 
The conversations. 
The arguments.

But then I imagined my 8th & 9th grade kiddos sitting in our classrooms, and I got out of bed. 

You see, I love my kids. 
I want to spend time with them. 
They are these incredible people. 
Really, truly, they are. 
I see so much goodness in them, and I want to do my part to cultivate that goodness. 

Frankly, that is my most important job. 

Sure, I find some sick pleasure in helping them understand the difference between coordinating conjunctions used to form compound sentences and subordinating conjunctions used to form complex sentences, but that is not why I've been an educator for nearly a decade. 

Some parents, if they knew what happened in my classroom, would probably object. 

I talk morality. 
I talk values. 
I talk humanity. 
I talk responsibility.
I talk critical thinking. 
I talk empathy. 
I talk tolerance

Because, frankly, what actually matters more than those things?  

Many parents, especially in America, do not believe that is a teacher's job. 

Rather than have their children develop a broad understanding of the world and its strikingly diverse humanity, many parents want mini-me's who live in the same narrow world that they do-- whether it be political or religious. 

The day I am told I can no longer teach my kids how to walk in another's shoes or why it's crucial that they do so is the day I leave the classroom forever

In class, we have been reading The Diary of Anne Frank. We've been talking about the Holocaust. I've shared the ladder of prejudice with them to help them wrap their minds around how that atrocity was tolerated. In social studies, we learned all about Islam as a component of our Middle Eastern studies. I shared with them many current event articles about Islamophobia.
It is no secret why I do those things. 

I want my students to be aware of the world they live in.
I want them to be aware of what their fellow human beings are dealing with.
I want them to wonder: what if that was me
I want them to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 
I want them to recognize injustice when they see it. 
And most importantly, I want them to feel compelled to act when they do.

I don't think my agenda is a secret to them.
I hope they become allies and helpers and advocates. 
I hope they become a voice of tolerance in the future.

Our literature should make that clear: The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Our literature forces them to walk around in the shoes of poor people, black people, disabled people, Jewish people, and people fighting to promote knowledge. Our literature showcases what closed mindedness and ignorance can do to a society. It showcases people who choose to do the right thing even when it is the hard thing.

I freakin' love our literature units!

On Wednesday, before we began our dramatic reading of Anne Frank, I opened up an opportunity for students to talk about the results of the election.

Many students were floored at how wrong the polls were, so we talked about it. Even more could not believe that half of Americas did not vote, so we talked about that. Some didn't understand how Hilary lost when she won the popular vote, so we talked about the electoral college. Some wondered if American Christians were trying to create a theocracy, and all I could do is admit that I wondered that too.

I could see the look on many of their faces: they wondered what a Donald Trump presidency would mean for international relations, especially with China. After all, the whole China-Taiwan thing is a major issue for them, and under past presidencies, China had been warned that if it made a move on Taiwan, America would intervene to protect Taiwan's democracy.

Before we started our reading, I told my students one last thing:

Voting is a privilege.

When they are old enough to vote either in America or Taiwan, they should think of more than just themselves and their immediate communities. They should think of all the others who will be affected by their vote, and their decision should be for the greater good of all, not just themselves.

Because that is what makes a society a decent place to live.


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