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Letter: If children can learn to understand differences, find solutions — so can we

It seems daily events in our country bring bubbling angst among our citizenry. Whether it is issues surrounding immigration or health care or local police officers being shot down, what one believes and what is perceived as just becomes entangled in what is “normed.” 

This current angst puts our democracy in the balance. Who wins and who loses? Who’s empowered and who is disenfranchised? Who is embraced and who is tossed aside?

The communities we elect to be a part of are constructed upon our stated/unstated beliefs in what the future holds. Interestingly, we could replace “beliefs” with the word “fears” in the previous statement and it works.

I am putting my bets on the children in our schools. Teachers create communities of learners. The classroom is a microcosm of society. All one needs to do is pause – pause to listen to the children, pause to think, pause before speaking, pause to extinguish the angst, pause to contemplate — just pause, breathe — resist immediate reaction, sit with it. After the pause, teachers must act by inviting others into the dialogue.

I hope schools can continue to be claimed as one of the most powerful, promising venues for changing our society; that is, we support teachers standing in positions to help heal “the heart of democracy.” 

In my own classrooms, our class meetings served to address problems within the classroom community. Students learned to talk with one another in ways that respected the other’s point of view. 

We often used literature to vicariously experience a life that we otherwise could not imagine. Through that window, we were able to create possibilities for empathy. 

In response to a character in Barbara O’Connor’s “How to Steal a Dog,” one student cried saying, “I never knew it was like that to be ‘homeless.’ I’ve never been homeless.” O’Connor had created a character who not only offered a window for readers to look through but one that also opened a door for students to walk through. 

Not surprisingly, the students wanted to think about how they could change their worlds. My efforts and those of hundreds of teachers who return to classrooms soon offer a promise that people can change, that change is possible and that we can be agents of change. 

We are going to disagree. We are going to see issues differently. We are going to have different motivations. It’s a given. All this difference can be debilitating unless we embrace the tension of our differences and harness them to unite us around creative energy in finding peaceful solutions. We owe it to our children.

So, a shout out to all the teachers who will return to classrooms in the coming weeks. It will be only days later when students will join you and you will have a great impact on them. Take on the challenge and begin the restoration of democracy by modeling for your students that which we want in the world.

Shane Rayburn


Regional events