Archive for February, 2015

WHAT WE CAN DO FOR LOVE!

February 13, 2015 Comments Off on WHAT WE CAN DO FOR LOVE! General

Shiny Valentines

Valentine’s Day can be something of a haven in the midst of a cold mid-winter month. After many years of driving to my university in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, I can tell you that there is a very discernable change in the color and light of the hills and the waterways by February 14th. There are truly signs of spring in February! This time of year, especially around Valentine’s Day, gives us a chance to look around in a hopeful way–at nature and at the people all around us.

I think this would also be an excellent time of the year for us to think about how we can extend our personal efforts to reduce the troubling amount of racism and social hostility toward human differences we are experiencing in our nation. As the world of nature slowly changes from the ravages of winter to the signs of spring, we can take a personal look at the possibilities in our own lives for reducing conflict and aggression in our society. The simplest and most available thing for many of us to do is to extend ourselves in a friendly way to those around us who are different from ourselves. We might be surprised about how many people we are accustomed to passing in our daily lives without really “seeing” them and extending a friendly greeting — our responses to human differences can be very subtle but exclusionary nonetheless. For example, I noticed one semester that my students (gathered outside the classroom door for the class before ours to end) completely ignored the group of international students who came out of the door and passed them in the hallway when the class was over. I brought this to their attention and suggested that we all give a smile and nice hello to the students as they left the classroom. I realize that this may seem ridiculously small in the face of massive national and international problems, but any sincere effort to increase positive social interactions in our direct environments would be a genuine improvement!

We teachers are fortunate to have a unique opportunity to reach out to children who tend to be marginalized – especially those whose behavior is also viewed as problematic. One of my doctoral students shared the brilliant idea that schools develop informal mentoring programs in which teachers take responsibility for engaging a few students who they know are on the social margins in friendly small talk once a day! “How is your dog?” “Did you go sledding?” “What have you watched on TV?” (Or try a few friendly words in their primary language!) Again – this can seem ridiculously small in the face of what we see on the front of the newspaper every day. Yet, when we enter large public schools, it is not at all uncommon to quickly  identify  children who appear to be socially isolated and marginalized. How are they feeling and who might they become without more warm, caring human interaction? Just as an example, I recently invited the parent of a child with significant special physical needs to talk with my class. She told my students that her child frequently eats alone at a table in her middle-school cafeteria – no one will join her! What a wonderful opportunity for a caring adult to notice this and form a “lunch club” at that table with a variety of new friends every week! It is the child who is “different”, or ignored by peers, or always in trouble, or angry every day who can benefit most from those who reach out with compassion and caring in simple, warm, consistent ways. Inclusiveness reduces the suffering of discrimination and helps others to be mindful of the needs and feelings of those all around them. Inclusiveness helps the children who are invisible to become not only visible but also recognized and honored and important.

These are the things we can do for love, and the results really do add up to a better world.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator committed to advocacy for children. http://standingupforsomething.com/