We Work in the Service of Children

A warning: this post will be a mess. Because my thoughts are a mess. Because sometimes when anger and frustration take over, my words just need to come out and I cannot worry about their coherence. And so, here we go.

We work in the service of children.

We do not work in the interest of preserving the comfort of adults.

This past year, over and over again, I have heard story after story about teachers who have been told to wait. I join those teachers, as I have been told to wait as well. When we push to confront issues of equity or push to make our classrooms more inclusive or demand that others work to make their classrooms more inclusive or work to bring out difficult conversations that we know will move us forward towards teaching in more just spaces and in more just ways, we have been told to wait.

Wait for board policies to be written.

Wait for parents to be on board.

Wait for a committee to form.

Wait for that committee to craft a vision statement.

Wait for us to let the parents know what we plan to do.

Wait to ask for permission from adults.

Wait.

And every time I have been told to wait, and every time I hear the stories of others who have been told to wait, I question what it is we are really waiting for.

And then, quickly, I realize the answer. We are waiting for adults to be ready. We are waiting for adults to be comfortable.

But we know how that story goes. Adults, at least those whose comfort we are so worried about protecting, those adults will never be ready. It will never be the right time. It will never be the right moment. Because the truth is that we have missed the right moment. We have missed the right time. We are now so far past when we should have been doing this work that we have absolutely no right to wait any longer.

Because what happens to our children while we wait?

As our schools continue to operate as oppressive systems where not all children feel safe, where not all children feel valued, where not all children have equal access to the learning that we are trying to do. As we continue to perpetuate these systems, what happens to our children?

I’ll tell you what happens. Children continue to suffer. They continue to feel as if they have to hide a piece of who they are in order to make the adults around them more comfortable. They continue to feel as if who they are is not appropriate for the classroom, that it should come with some kind of a permission slip, that other children need parent permission before they know that people like them exist. They continue to be denied the opportunity to see people just like them reflected in the books that they read and the curriculum they are taught. They continue to be forced into boxes that do not feel as if they were ever made to fit them. They continue to have to make choices between options that only make them feel worse. They continue to feel as if it is their job to make those around them comfortable, even if that means denying their own identity and stuffing the very best pieces of themselves far down inside.

And not only that. It is not only the children whose identities are not valued by our educational system who are suffering. Those who are a part of the groups privileged enough to have always been seen by our schools, they are suffering too. They are being denied a chance to learn about the people who exist in this world and it leaves them ill-equipped to interact with those people with compassion and empathy. And so they are turning out to be cruel. They are being denied a chance to learn about the inequity and imbalance of power that has existed in this country since its inception so that they are left with no knowledge of the systems that have given them privilege and they are left with feelings of entitlement and an inability to work to fix the systems they are a part of. They are suffering too.

And our world. Our whole is suffering while we wait for the adults to feel ready. While we wait to make certain adults more comfortable.

And in the mean time. Children continue to take their own lives because they do not feel seen by our world.  Children continue to leave our school systems and are left to fend for themselves in this world. Children continue to rail against the systems that oppress them and end up in jail because of it. Why does that all of that make people feel comfortable? Why are we okay with that? Why does that not send us running towards change?

It is the fear. I understand that. We fear that parents won’t understand what we are doing. We fear that administrators won’t support us. We fear that families will complain.

But we have been here before. We know how to move forward in spite of the fear that parents won’t understand. In a million different ways we have moved forward before.

In small ways. Yes. But in ways that can teach us something about the path forward.

Think about something as small as inventive spelling. When our schools began to support the use of a child’s inventive spelling, we saw the power of that decision. We saw that it opened up the world of writing for children. We saw that they wrote more, that they developed stronger writing identities, that they moved along the developmental path of writing much more quickly when they were not held back by the spelling. We saw the power of that work and so we moved forward into it before many of the adults around us were ready. And parents were terrified. They imagined that their children would never learn how to spell. There were phone calls and meetings and conferences. And there was confusion and questions and anger.

And yet. We moved forward because we knew it was right. We moved forward because we saw what this work could do for our children. We did not wait for all of the adults to be ready.  Because we knew that this was good for kids.

And I know that this work is much scarier than that.

But, in the same ways, with perhaps a bit more bravery, we can move forward with this work too. With the work of creating more inclusive classrooms. With the work of helping students see the racist and homophobic and transphobic and Islamaphobic systems that they are a part of. We can move forward. Because we know that it is good for our children. We know that it is good for this world. We have seen the power of this work and we can move forward and trust that we can help the adults around us to see the power of this work as well, even before they think they are ready.

We can tell them about the power of this work. We can tell them the evidence we have seen. We can tell them that we have seen children able to learn more successfully when who they are is acknowledged in our schools and in our classrooms. We can tell them about how we have seen children wrestle with tough topics and end up in places of compassion and empathy. We can tell them that introducing our students to characters of all kinds in books gives them an opportunity to learn to ask questions respectfully so that they are more prepared to respectfully encounter people of all kinds in this world. We can tell them how they have learned to disagree respectfully. We can tell them how they have learned to identify bias and work to move beyond it. We can tell them how they have learned to question what they read. We can tell them how they have learned to ask whose voices are not being heard and then work to seek those voices out. We can tell them about the communities that we are able to build and sustain. About the work that we are able to help our students do.

We can make them believe that they are ready by showing them that their children have always been ready.

We do not have to wait until the adults arrive at comfort. We can meet them where they are, in their state of discomfort, and we can guide them forward by letting the students and their work lead the way.

Because I am sick of waiting. I am sick of others being okay with waiting. We have waited for far too long. So long, that this past week, I had to watch as my own government heard arguments about whether people like me deserve the right to be served by businesses and business owners who claim that their religion prevents them from accepting that I am a human being worthy of service. And as I have watched that story unfold, again, our children are watching it unfold as well. And if that is the only story they are hearing, if that kind of hatred is not tempered in our schools by stories of acceptance and inclusion and positive representation, then we can no longer act surprised when hatred wins the white house. We can no longer claim we don’t know how this could have happened. Us. Us and our waiting is how this has happened.

And if we wait until everyone is ready for change. Then change is never going to come.

4 thoughts on “We Work in the Service of Children

  1. Thank you. Each of your posts inspires me to take one more step, do one more thing, to make myself a more inclusive, compassionate teacher who shows kids how they can choose inclusion and compassion, too.

  2. My mantra over the last three + years, much of it in response to waiting… Change happens on the edge of comfort. Your reminder, “They are being denied a chance to learn about the people who exist in this world and it leaves them ill-equipped to interact with those people with compassion and empathy,” hit home. I spent time in schools (we moved a lot) over 20 years ago, to advocate for my daughter with special needs, to be included, in a class with age peers, for this reason. It worked to achieve this outcome. It can continue to do so.

  3. Pingback: 2017: A Year in Blog Posts | Crawling Out of the Classroom

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