This is not the world I had hoped my eight grandchildren would inherit. I truly thought our country was on track to be more loving, accepting, inclusive, and kind. Instead, during Bullying Prevention Month, folks are talking about a child with special needs in Texas being set on fire with classmates who taunted him accused of doing it; people dressed as creepy clowns frightening children; and vulgar remarks and the entitlement to sexually assault women from a man running for President of our country.
I want to put my grandkids in a bubble to keep them from seeing all of the hatred and bullying out there.
- For my grandchildren with special needs, I pray they don’t know about the child set on fire or the way Donald Trump mocked a reporter who is disabled.
- For my four oldest grandkids, who are girls, I hope they don’t see or hear Trump’s words from their peers, or think they live in a world that accepts such language as “locker room talk.”
- For my four youngest grandkids, the boys, I hope they don't get the idea that men can engage in "locker room talk" and objectify or assault women.
- For my grandkids old enough to hear about it from their peers, I hope they are not afraid a creepy clown will try to abduct on their way to school or jump out of a hiding place to frighten them.
- For my grandkids who are black, I hope they don’t think that their skin color makes them “less than” in today’s America.
I have worked hard in my thirty-year professional career as an early childhood educator to create caring and respectful communities for young children. Let me share what we taught the students at Cherry Preschool, the program I founded and directed:
Respect people, places, and things – Every person, regardless of who he or she is, deserves respect. So do the places and things in our lives, particularly our environment. This is not hard for three-year-olds to grasp.
You can’t say you can’t play – When you live in a community, and that is what a classroom is, everyone deserves a seat at the table. Keeping another child out of play is simply not fair.
Be fair – This extension of being inclusive helps all children to stand up for themselves and others. We taught children to challenge bias and unfairness. Ask any four-year-old what is fair or unfair. She knows.
We are all different and yet all valued – Young children are not color blind, but they are incredibly accepting if the adults in their lives don’t teach them differently. So while children recognize they come in all colors, sizes, and abilities, they see the sameness in their humanity.
Celebrate diversity – We wanted our students to feel proud of themselves and their heritage and find a place for themselves and others in our diverse world. Being different is just…different. We taught children to be glad there was so much diversity in the world.
Welcome and include children with special needs – This is a part of diversity that is often forgotten. When people of differing abilities are brought together in an environment that teaches acceptance, respect, and the appreciation of individual differences, the lives of all children are enriched.
Create a caring community – At Cherry Preschool, our dream was for parents, children, and educators to forge the bonds of a community that supports and cherishes its members. We recognized the power of working together to create a better world.
When we sent our students out into the world of elementary school, we believed we had equipped them to be “playground ambassadors,” spreading the values they had learned and standing up for others. Instead, they are being taught that we live in a cruel world filled with countless examples of hate-filled bullying. That’s not the world I dreamed of 25 years ago when Cherry Preschool was created. It’s not what I hoped for when President Obama was elected in 2008 and again in 2012. In both elections, his opponents did not reflect my political views, but they were honorable men whom I would have respected had they been elected.
I guess I should have seen this shift in America’s political climate coming. Much like someone who thinks she can ride out the storm during a hurricane, I dismissed Sarah Palin as a joke and thought the birthers were a small and ridiculous group of racists led by a small and ridiculous celebrity. I thought the acceptance of marriage equality, the importance of battling racial and economic injustice, and the recognition of climate change were on the horizon. Instead, a hurricane of bullying and hatred has destroyed my safe haven. I am left worrying if this is a storm I can survive. More importantly, I am left in despair about my grandchildren’s future.
Who won the second Presidential debate? No one. The fact that my grandchildren could not be permitted to watch it makes us all the losers.
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