This is my 30th year working in schools as a social worker. I continue to learn much from my students, most of which reminds me of why life is good and worth living. However, recently I have become alarmed, and left virtually speechless, by two separate, interconnected incidents.
The first involves some students of Muslim background who asked, “Why does that man who wants to be president hate my family?” The second involves a student who proudly announces to his peers in a lunch group “Let’s get rid of all Mexicans.” The student is admonished by his peers; his only nervous response is to laugh at them. The clear message is, “so, who cares?” I do. So should all of us.
Donald Trump has now figuratively entered the ethnically mixed elementary school where I work. He is an uninvited guest, for sure. Bigotry now lives in the hearts and minds of these students. Some are the targets, one the perpetrator. They are all victims, of Mr. Trump’s verbal abuse and moral neglect. Never mind that this is a small sample. When even one child learns racism and bullying from adults behaving badly, that is one too many.
I gather my politically correct strength to muster an appropriate response, mindful that children are keen observers of all behavior, some seen and some heard; mindful of how hate cannot be met with more hate, as it diminishes the soul of the message, the messenger, and the audience. I want all students to live in a world where exemplary character is still the goal to which we must all aspire, as it determines our destiny. I want to respond in a manner that cares for the injury – an attempt to heal the hurt from words used as weapons that incite violence and contempt for “the other.” I am careful to not explain away bullying, hatred, and the targeting of specified religious and ethnic groups, without running the risk of condoning abhorrent and indecent behavior. I do not want to condemn the perpetrator; I want to render impotent these powerfully toxic messages spewed from the darkest places of human nature — fear and ignorance.
I want the size of the human heart and its capacity for empathy and compassion to be the largest part of a person – the part that matters most, for everyone, but especially for the children.
To the students of Muslim descent I say: “I don’t know why the man who wants to be president hates your family. He may not know why either. The best thing you can do is make sure you don’t hate anyone in your life. More than that — don’t hate him. Choose to be better than that.” I’m not sure they understand. It’s hard for me to understand hate, too.
To the student who laughs while he says he hates Mexicans, I patiently offer: “Don’t be a person who hates. Only those who hate will want to be your friend. Choose to be better than that, and apologize to the people who heard you say this.” This young impressionable student won’t reflect on the damage done. I silently wish for him and others like him a mirror so he may see his true face.
Mr. Trump, you have made my job as an educator more difficult. I never thought in my 30 years working with children that I would have to protect and emotionally immunize them from the vile and hateful speech of a presidential candidate. Oddly enough, you have given me a gift; I am now more committed to teaching students about compassion and our shared humanity. I shall start immediately.
School will soon be out for the summer. I wish no more hurt for or by my students. Most of all, Mr. Trump, I wish you a peaceful path, and a moral compass to find your way.