" You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." Madeleine L'Engle
Being in the classroom again with small children as a substitute teacher has been a gift to me. I had forgotten the little differences that define each grade. The ways in which they interact with the world around them changes so significantly from age five to age 11. It is a few years as adults, but so significant a time in child development.
There is a deep well of quiet and curiosity in the younger grades. You see it in their eyes and feel it in their presence. They are quite literally taking in everything around them. It is remarkable to play in that space with them- imagining, believing everything is possible, and being excited about the day set before us; our friends, the weather and season, the work and play we get to experience together.
I teach in a fantastic school district; one with money, resources, and a driving philosophy that cultivates community and culture. Recently, I spoke with a woman who teaches in a district which is the polar opposite.
The children in this district have not yet begun curriculum in late September because they are working on social skills, self soothing, self control, using words. The basics. Her day consists of being hit by first graders, a boy hiding in the corner of her room pulling at the hall pass around his neck, telling her he wants to go to Heaven. She has seen kindergarteners demonstrate sexual acts, as well as children clinging to her after school, with guttural sobs pleading for their mama, who is incarcerated in another state.
This woman doesn't know if she can continue. She says it is not a question of if, but when a child will bring a weapon to school. Her classroom looks out of roofless buildings with trees growing out of them. She has children of her own and fears the risks of being at this school outweigh what she can do for these children.
Maslow's hierarchy states the deficiency needs are ones we don't recognize unless they are not present, and then we are put in a place of anxiety until the need is met. Food, water, security, stability, love and recognition of self.
The children in my district are in a system where access to these needs is actively sought and met with resources. The children in the other teacher's district have access to nothing. It is a one human being per 25 students who are internally wounded and deficient in all of their basic needs, with no resources to help them. Not the district, not the parents, not the neighbors or community. There is no security structure for them to grow into who they are meant to be. There is no hope here. That stark reality has been staring me in the face since I spoke to this woman.
Our children- every child- deserves childhood. They deserve a shot at life no matter their color, religion, or whether they were born in the suburbs or inner city. Every single child deserves this time of beauty, openness, wonder and security; to build and fortify their inner being for the challenges, realities and work that are supposed to lie ahead in adulthood.
Only in listening to each other and opening up ourselves to what our neighbors are experiencing, can we bring hope to those who don't have it. We can start to find solutions together if we are willing to admit our understanding might not encompass reality to the extent we think it does.
Our future is our children and how we allow them to experience the world around them. I am learning daily from the amazing tiny human beings I get to come into contact with, that truth and hope lie inside of each of us, waiting to be put into action. We each have the ability to greet the day with openness to new ideas, friendship with others different than us, wonder and excitement about the world we live in. And that is how we can truly begin to change the fear and anger in our world to hope and love.
My understanding of the truth became forever altered by speaking with someone who lives it daily. I am still not sure how I am going to take this understanding and use it for change, but I know that I will never think about " disadvantaged" school districts and children in the same way. And I am so thankful for that.
My eyes are open. I am ready for the new day. Now lets see what we can do together, friends.