Saturday, June 27, 2015

Every Student Deserves Representation and Safety

I believe teachers' responses near and far to both yesterday's SCOTUS decision and recent news that increased awareness of transgender issues will be the ultimate litmus tests for many in the profession, stretching the patience and tolerance of those with whom they work. Some might consider it the height of professionalism to "leave well enough alone" or "keep your mouth shut," but student advocacy, not just instruction, is part of our responsibility.  In the search for age-appropriate books to add to my class library, I came across a thread on social media where veteran teachers were asserting how they weren't going to read "filth"/"this material" to their students, such as storybooks that include characters who dress in gender-opposite clothing or have two mothers, even if there is a student (or students) in their classroom who has same-sex parents or demonstrates gender fluidity (like many do in kindergarten). 

If "this material," meaning storybooks that illustrate the diversity represented by families, doesn't belong in the classroom and in the hands of our youngest learners who are likely to witness, if not experience these and many other social changes firsthand, then how will students learn to adapt, behave, interpret, and hopefully positively impact the world around them?  How are they to feel safe within their classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods? How are children from more traditional family arrangements supposed to learn about and practice respectful behaviors if they can't ask the questions they're bound to want to every time they encounter something new to them?  Some teachers in the post I stumbled across were advocating for a return to the "good ol' days" of reading, writing and arithmetic, and ignoring "the sick behavior" they find so disgusting.  These folks are oblivious to the fact that change and diversity are the rules on this planet, NOT the exceptions.  Are we to deny our students access to literature portraying biracial or bicultural families, or media that includes images of those suffering from handicapping conditions, or the death of a family member because a teacher thinks they're icky or the topic makes them uncomfortable?  Do we have the right to deny each student supportive representation and the feeling of belonging?  Teachers should not contribute to the idea that some children are less deserving or less human because of the decisions that their parents, in whatever arrangement they're presented make, or because of which gender each child might identify with.  Teachers should commit to the emotional and physical safety of our students and their families without thinking that our opinion regarding issues OTHER than abuse and neglect are in any way our business.  The love and care between parents and children and teachers and classmates has nothing to do with promoting sexuality.  I weep for the children who have to face a "trusted adult" in the classroom who looks at them or their families with an expression of disgust.

It's imperative for those who have chosen to work in the arena of public education to remember who they serve: the public, not just select members of that neighborhood or community. If your upbringing, belief system, sense of entitlement, or even gag reflex prevent you from giving each and every student your best, consider a change in venue. Find support and employment in a like-minded private school, or open your own. You'll be doing yourself, and many children a favor.

I found the following books on do you know of any others?  Link me up in the comments.

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