Archive for May, 2014

NOT!ONE!MORE!

May 27, 2014 Comments Off on NOT!ONE!MORE! General

Not! One! More!

It is important to reflect on the words of Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was one of those who were recently killed in a rampage of weapons and violence by another young man in California. In his pain and sorrow Mr. Martinez urged this nation to take the steps necessary to end the madness of unpredictable violence so there would be not one more senseless death by shooting. I believe he is right in pointing to gun control as an essential step in the right direction. We can protect our right to arms without making dangerous assault weapons and huge rounds of ammunition easily available to people with no legitimate reason for owning them. I further agree with Mr. Martinez that craven politics can and do diminish human rights to life and well-being.

I am writing this blog today, however, to reflect especially on Mr. Martinez’s statement that we do not think that these tragic shootings can take our lives or the lives of our children and family members until they do. In a nation where the rich never have to cross paths with the poor and where some citizens can ignore the ugly horrors of violence with which others live daily, it can be all too easy for some in this nation to lull themselves into inertia about the avoidable and terrible dangers that can affect any one of us at any time. I think it is important to make a connection between deaths like that of Christopher Martinez and the necessity of public concern and compassion for the difficulties and injustices that are experienced by many people – difficulties and injustices that add to social toxicity and the likelihood of more and more eruptions of senseless violence.

One of the points I emphasize strongly in the beginning of my book Standing Up for Something Every Day is that our concern about the well-being of children in the United States must extend to every child in our nation – from the most to the least affluent and privileged. All our children are affected by the forms of social toxicity that place money, power, and politics above compassion and care for people. We can clearly see the impact of abject poverty on children – their suffering affects their immediate environment as well as their life trajectory. But it can be all too easy to overlook the impact of social and political greed and callousness on the comfortable and affluent children in our midst. In fact, there is emergent evidence that children of wealth and privilege may be more prone to depression and drug use. Every adult needs to find ways to show all our young people that this is a nation concerned with justice for all –  a nation with a demonstrated commitment to a decent and safe life for all the people and compassion for those who have yet to experience it.

Part of the pathway to opening our eyes to what is really happening in our society is stepping out of our comfort zones to see how others live. Here is an example of what I mean by this. In the late 1990s I boarded a plane in Rome to return home to the United States. I planned to read a new book on multicultural education during the flight. After take-off I opened the book. Before I had a chance to start reading it the young woman seated next to me said, “Do you believe in multicultural education?” When I answered in the affirmative, she strongly disagreed with me. As it turns out, she had attended an expensive independent school in Philadelphia that sought to develop a social conscience in its students. As part of this effort, the school had created the opportunity for its students to experience a collaborative program with other students in a public high school in the same city. This young women complained about the program because visiting the high school had made her very uncomfortable. She said, “What was I supposed to say? I’m sorry your school is so horrible? I’m sorry you don’t have books and sports and activities? I’m sorry you have to enter school through a weapons detector every day? I mean – what was the purpose of going there and seeing that?” I told her that I suspected that her teachers rightly felt that it was very important for her to have that experience and to see – less than a mile from her own privileged school – that young people her age were living very different lives. “You couldn’t change things for those public high school students at the time, but you really had the opportunity to feel the differences in their school – differences that would have had the same negative effect on you that it did on them. I think your teachers wanted you to care about this as a future citizen – to take action to protect all those who lived in your future communities.”

Compassionate citizenship is not limited to charitable donations. It requires us to see, acknowledge, and demonstrate concern for those who are not experiencing a fair and equal chance in the United States. For example, do the major employers in our communities earn millions or billions while many of their full time employees make so little that they qualify for food stamps? Do many of the affluent citizens avoid local public schools because they know that the less-privileged children who attend them experience large class sizes and a lack of educational resources? Or because they are attended by many children of color? Do many of us easily move into and within historic structures of social injustice and inequality, failing to realize that the fact that we did not build those structures does not excuse us from challenging their fundamental unfairness? If our children and other people’s children see our care, our concern, and our compassion – and our action on behalf of others – they will become more human and more humane themselves. What can and should we do to say this is not right—this is not fair—this can lead to the dangers of desperation and despair?

Many people tell me that they are growing tired of discussions about diversity and fairness because they make them feel guilty without pointing to action. We all need to recognize the action that is very close by at all times – our potential actions that serve to diminish human suffering and enhance the rights of others around us to safe and reasonably comfortable lives. The loss of so many young lives in our nation to weapons and violence should not lead to useless despair — it should lead us to greater recognition of our responsibility to do what we can to build a decent, compassionate, and just society. Probably no one has the power today to make sure that not one more young person dies a sudden violent death at the hands of another. But if we all take up a passionate mantra of not one more we may be more likely to see the changes we can affect in our immediate community environments. This is the first step – and a possible step—to build the health of our communities and save the lives of those who might very well become future victims of violence.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children