No one is born evil. No baby is filled with hate. It is naive to think that all people have the same opportunities to grow up with equal powers of intellect, empathy, imagination, and hope, but those inequities provide all of us the opportunity to fight for fewer children destined to fill the ranks of the hate-mongers, the violent, the bigots.
Can educators overcome powerful parental, generational, and cultural influences, where those combine to perpetuate hate and intolerance? Maybe not in every case. But I am an optimist when it comes to the transformational power of education. I believe that for some of those flag-waving, hate-spewing Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville last week, for some that will show up in Boston or New York or your city this weekend, we failed. Some combination of teachers, coaches, and mentors who had those kids within their sphere of influence when they were six or ten or twelve years old, failed to stand up and teach the right thing.
Some failed because the school system in which they work wont let them. District and state leaders, pushed by outspoken voters, condemn educators who try to speak out against endemic racism and historical myths. In the name of balance and fairness in the classroom or on the ball field, we fail to speak truth to evil
Some failed because at their core, they have a degree of sympathy for the hate-mongers, even if they don’t join the march and wave the same flag. We wish that was not the case, but teachers are people, too.
Some failed because they live in a town or a part of the country where speaking truth in the face of evil is and has been risky for generations. It is easier to get along.
I sympathize and support all educators in this trial. But here’s the deal: if we don’t do our utmost to help these kids find another way to view the world, probably no one else will…and that is on us, whether we like it or not, regardless of how difficult or what opposition we face.
If you call yourself an educator, as this school year starts, think about priorities of learning. List for yourself (or if you are an administrator with a degree of control over how others might teach this year, create an opportunity for them) all of the things you hope your students will learn this year. Ask: what is the most important; if there was just one thing that my students would leave the year having learned, what would it be?
Somewhere on that list, put “That Nazis and KKK and white supremacists are evil; they have no place in our world today, and you, child, have so many better choices that you can make as you grow up.” And then find something more important for them to learn, if you can. I think it will be tough.
So if we really believe that education transforms lives, let’s focus on the big stuff. Think what 3.5 million American teachers, all working to fight against racism, bigotry, hate, and intolerance could do?