Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This I Believe

Last year by the end of the school year, the students in my class had become wonderful writers.  Exceptional.  They were already writing memoir, fiction, excellent responses to literature, pen pal letters, you name it.  They were very confident and competent writers.  

While listening to NPR, I was reminded of that great short little segment called "This I Believe".  I considered it an interesting challenge for my kids and myself.  So we read a few and listened to a few in the classroom (ahhh, the wonders of modern technology) and set about writing our own.  

First I asked the children to think of some things they were passionate about.  This threw a bunch of them.  PASSIONATE?  They couldn't get their minds around that.  We read and listened to a few more.  Some kids gave examples from their own minds and hearts.  I believe in making the world a cleaner place... standing up for justice... working as hard as I can... helping others... eating healthy foods...  The ideas kept coming.  As usual, they taught each other.

Most of them were masterpieces.  It was fitting that these were our last formal pieces of writing for the year.  I don't know if any of these children will ever go back to their "This I Believe" pieces, but at least they knew they were passionate about something and could write clearly about it.

So, here is my contribution to the collection of passion pieces.  This is what I believe...

I Believe in the Future
by Tim O'Keefe

Listening to the news or reading the paper can be pretty scary.  Neighbors killing neighbors in Kenya, thought to be one of the most peaceful nations in Africa.  Uprisings, kidnapping, suicide bombings, ethnic cleansing, genocide.

It seems that large groups of people can find anything to fight over - to kill over.  War.  The loss of innocence and the loss of innocents.

You believe in a different God, have a different holy book.  You interpret the same holy book differently.  Your skin is too dark, not dark enough.  You live in a land that belonged to our ancestors.  You live on land we want.  You speak the wrong language.  We want what you have.  

As I write this this I continue to have hope.  I have hope because I work with children.  In my third grade classroom we have African American children, Caucasians, mixed race kids, a child whose mom and dad were born in China.  In our class some children are naturally shorter, others quite tall for their age.  We encompass all the natural differences a group of 24 people should have.

In our small colorful community we celebrate differences.  When Tre comes in with a new hair style (this week it's corn rows, last week it was twists) we tell him how cool it looks.  When Semira wears different colorful ribbons in her hair she is told how pretty she is.  And she knows it's true.  When someone gets a new pair of shoes or wears something new there are compliments, even if it is a hand-me-down.  When we publish what we write for workshop, the hands shoot up with appreciations.

My young friends know something about human nature that many grownups seem not to understand; that we all need to be appreciated for who we are.  Purushotham has a really interesting accent and is a vegetarian.  Lisa's mom just got her American citizenship last year.  Jazz has the coolest, fluffiest hair.  Konnor and Max are Mormon.  Olivia and Amelia's parents are professional musicians.  All of this is well known in our community.  We love these things about each other.  We love each other.  And while we may not say it often, we know. We just know.  How could we not know?

Of course we don't always get along.  We have issues about sportsmanship and responsibility.  Sometimes we use bad words and hurtful language.  Sometimes we tattle when it isn't necessary.  It happens.  But kids are much better at some things than grownups. 

Years ago when a new class was coming up with our list of "Rules for Living and Learning Together" one little girl, Jordan, was listening very carefully.  We worked in committees.  Lots of rules were being suggested.  There were many NOs and DON'Ts as in NO HITTING, NO RUNNING IN SCHOOL and DON'T INTERRUPT.  

When we reassembled the class generated a very positive code.  Among our ways of living together were: *Do your best work.  *Share your knowledge.  *Be positive.  *Obey the adults in charge when it is reasonable.  It was a wonderful list.  It was the kind of code that could change the world if we could all abide by it.

Jordan raised her hand.  I already figured that we were finished with our list but she was insistent.  "I think we should add 'Apologize when you make a mistake'".  There was a pause as we all considered this.  I was awed by her simple but profound idea.  Of course we should apologize when we make mistakes.  Jordan was SO right.  To sincerely apologize is exactly what we should do when we harm someone.  

The rest of the class recognized this too. It was unanimous that "Apologize when you make a mistake" would be added to our list.  But Jordan put her hand up again.  

She looked a little uncertain as she spoke this time.  "And I think," she began, "that when someone says 'sorry' you need to accept their apology."

"Of course," I agreed.  In some ways Jordan's quiet words transformed our conversation from RULES to THE WAY TO LIVE A DECENT LIFE.  

I believe in the future because I work with children.  Children often know intuitively what is really important;how to get along, how to appreciate and value each other.  Children trust.  They care.  They think in ways many adults have forgotten.  It is my prayer that this generation of young people don't forget what they know so deeply and that we can learn the true value and dignity of human life through them.

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