The world has changed in a lot of ways recently, from my view in a small city in Virginia. Or maybe it hasn’t changed, but different parts of the world have become more apparent.
A man has been elected to the highest office of my country, one of the most powerful countries in the world. A country who has a history of idealism, whose birth is rooted in idealism, but who has time and time again fallen painfully short. And yet we are still here, we are still standing, so many of us trying to have the conversations that allow us to inch a little closer to that ideal.
Part of that conversation, part of any conversation, is listening to the varying perspectives of others. Listening with love, and compassion, and trying to understand a different position even without agreeing with it or even accepting it. But I find myself really struggling to do so.
Because the thing is, as a kindergarten teacher, I spend my days with five year olds. I spend my days and my thoughts and my patience and my love helping them learn how to navigate the world, even when the size of that world is just a classroom. And in that classroom, I’ve had to think hard about what my expectations are and WHY they are, in order to be fair to all my children.
Our classroom rule is “Be kind to each other.” We have only one rule, because when you are five it’s hard for you to remember a long list of rules, but also because we only NEED one rule to cover everything we need to cover. And in being kind to each other, we learn inherently that our needs as a person are no more important than the needs of any other singular person, that we must all make compromises, that we must all find ways to live with each other compassionately and support each other. That “fair” does not always mean “equal” because the needs of one are never exactly the same as the needs of another. And that you, from your perspective, do not get to determine the needs and feelings of someone else, who has a different perspective.
I am having a hard time understanding the disconnect between what I must teach my kindergarteners and the adult world we live in. Of course the world grows more complex. But that seems to me an even better reason to return to fundamentals, and consider how we can frame our interactions in the most basic things we learned as children.
Politics is politics, and can be argued. But humanity is humanity, and should never be argued. This election was not ever about politics, but about humanity. Somehow, in 2017, we as adults are still learning what our children already know. Our value is fundamentally connected to the fact that we are each a singular human being. What we look like, who we love, and what we believe does not change that.
But we ARE all interconnected, and how we behave towards one another DOES have an impact. In my classroom, all my children come from different backgrounds in their five short years. They all have some things that they are very good at, and some things that are very hard for them. We as a classroom community applaud each other’s strengths, and support each other in our growth. We learn together over the year that we are each important and valuable, but no MORE important or valuable than anyone else.
Let me give you some examples.
We finish quiet time and go to the carpet. Some markers are left on the table. I ask, “Who left the markers on the table? Can someone please put them away and help take care of our classroom?” Many children say, “Not me!” They are 5. They are ego-centric. That’s normal. But some children get up, go get the markers, and put them away, and we say, “Thank you for helping to take care of OUR classroom. We appreciate you.”
One child hits another child. The child who gets hit is upset; the first child says they were “just playing.” What do you say to that child? I say, “I understand you thought you were just playing, but your friend is telling you that they are hurt. How can you fix your relationship with your friend?”
A child doesn’t want to sit next to another child on the carpet, the reason being some variation of, “They are always touching me! They are always following me!” And what do you say to that child?
I say, “I understand that you don’t like how they are behaving. You need to use kind words and tell your friend what it is they are doing that you don’t like. You don’t have to be best friends with them and you don’t have to accept their behavior, but they are a part of our classroom and you do need to treat them with respect, just as you want them to treat you.”
It’s pretty black and white in kindergarten. And here’s the thing-even though there are excuses from every direction-in the end, it’s pretty black and white in adulthood too.