Monday, August 25, 2014

Following Ferguson: What Do We Say To Kids?

Where is the love?

I remember graduating from college and wondering how in the world I was going to get a teaching job mid year. I had to extend my higher education stay (much to my parent's delight, not) after deciding to earn a dual major and certification in early childhood and elementary education. This left me with a December graduation. Being that teachers work on yearly contracts, I was pretty much out of luck. I started subbing in any district that would take me and quickly found an opportunity to be a teacher's aid in the Ferguson -Florissant School District. Not being from Saint Louis I wasn't very knowledgeable about the area but applied anyways. Within a week I was hired and started working at a small public elementary school in Ferguson.

Prior to landing the teacher's aide position in Ferguson, I had just completed a 3rd grade student teaching placement in Ladue School District. I thought it was heaven! I worked with the Missouri Teacher of the Year and had access to incredible resources, ongoing support and met amazing families throughout that prior semester.
I can tell you that the differences between Ladue and Ferguson Florissant were night and day. But that's not what I want to talk about, because that's all people are talking about. Differences, how different people are in Ferguson from other areas of St. Louis and beyond. I want to talk about the similarities. The students in Ferguson were just as adorable as the children I taught in Ladue. The teachers were just as hard working as the teachers in Ladue and I met Ferguson parents who were incredibly passionate about education as I did in the Ladue School District.  I enjoyed working there just as much as I did student teaching in Ladue. Why? Kids are kids and they want to feel loved and respected. They made me feel loved and respected, both the white and the black kids.

Your own kids, or kids you know may be feeling a little confused right now, as they may have heard about the devastating situation in Ferguson. Obviously, this tragedy hits home to me. As adults, it can be difficult to explain the recent turn of events, and incredibly challenging as we seek ways to explain all that is happening. Here are some ways to help kids understand what is going on:

1. Acknowledge what they have seen and heard.  Well, thanks to social media and instant connection to the world, it's impossible to monitor everything kids are watching.  Ask them what they know, what have they heard and seen.  Pop that bubble you think they reside in. Kids are all different. Some may want to talk about it at the dinner table, some may want to talk in private, some may not want to talk about it all. Our kids listen and absorb more than we give them credit for. Ferguson is not a secret nor should it be swept under the rug just because it is not directly affecting your family. It's real life and families are being torn apart. Families just like ours. Communities are at risk. You can start by discussing your own family values, how does your family feel about violence, how does your family feel about racism? Yep, the R word.

2. Racism is real and it starts at home. No one is born racist. Racism is a product and consequence of one's home environment. If I were to guess, I would say that everyone knows someone who is racist. Our kids need to know what it means to be racist and why racism exists.  I don't know what it is like to be black. A black person doesn't know what it's like to be white. We can make assumptions and waste our time trying to envision that, or we can utilize our time in talking with people from other races and seek understanding from their own words. Asking them about their own culture, their own families. We can learn to understand the differences but also see similarities. Yes, there are images, stories, and allegations about the racism portrayed in Ferguson that appears scary and irrational. Keep in mind there are many angles to this tragic event.

3. We don't know the facts. Speculations and the news media are not 100% correct. We need to explain this to our kids.  The supporters of Michael Brown want justice. Some of these supporters are peacefully protesting, while others are violently rioting. The supporters of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown believe he was doing his job and acted accordingly with the law. While the investigation carries on, the majority of American surveyed (65%) said they do not have enough information to decide which side they are on. Until the case unfolds further, and correct valid information is shared, one can only base their opinion about what is being interpreted through the media.

4. Moving forward. Hopefully kids can find peace and understanding by doing the following: praying for the families, asking questions, but more importantly, realizing that in life sometimes peoples' actions do not make sense. Adults don't always have the answers but we can encourage questions. Avoid judgment and let kids know that some peoples' opinions can come across disrespectful or opinionated. Remain hopeful, while this is certainly a challenging and devastating issue, we have to show hope for the future. Talking with our kids about how we can change our actions, and our thoughts to support those who experience such hurt and violence. Not everything is black and white, even though that is the big issue in this case.

The police officers involved and the Ferguson rioters...all human. That's one thing we have in common, no matter what color we are, we are human. We have a body, a heart and a soul. All which need to be loved and respected. We can't get there if we don't talk about it.

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