Revisited: What Do We Tell the Children – and Immigrants (as Well as Refugees)

Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria

Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, California, USA: “Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This mosque, the fourth holiest place in Islam, is now in ruins.

It’s time to revisit two themes: “What do we tell the children?” and “What do we teach the children?”  In other words, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your neighbor (or stranger) as yourself.”
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On Saturday, January 27, Trump issued his now-famous executive order banning residents of seven designated predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that the order contains the phrase “foreign terrorist” but not “refugees.” Among these foreign terrorists detained was a four-month-old infant in need of open-heart surgery, and a one-year-old with cancer. In fact, world wide, children, already among the most vulnerable, are suffering in disproportionate numbers.
What do we mean by “extreme vetting”? A Homeland Security official explains that refugees have been been vetted thoroughly all along.

Teaching and Supporting the Children

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a comprehensive guide for educators and school support staff in dealing with the many complex issues of immigrants and refugees. Says the report,
“Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”
The report offers facts about undocumented students, immigration raids, what school communities can do, and taking action beyond the classroom.
A companion piece, “What Do I Say to Students about Immigration Orders?” offers clear, honest tips for helping undocumented students and children of undocumented parents. This thoughtful essay offers ten additional steps of constructive action teachers and other adult role models can take.

Out Beyond the School

 On Wednesday, February 1, Trump cut a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull short, refusing to honor America’s earlier pledge to take in 1,200 refugees. These are the refugees who had been relocated to the Papua New Guinea island of Nauru. The refugees consist mainly of families, many children among them. Witnesses – both the children themselves and the human rights group Amnesty International – describe the conditions there as inhumane.
Meanwhile, Samantha Bee had to put aside her humor in her scathing segment that night. Then, again, so was Trevor Noah, using the same c-bomb.

Forces of Good(ness) in the Twitterverse

 Bana Alabed, thankfully safe, had a poignant question for the president, seeking his empathy. Bana is the brave little Syrian girl who has been using Twitter to alert the world of the plight of these children, now political pawns subject to the political whims of egomaniac adults.
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The video can be found here. Please follow her! Bana’s mother, Fatemah, has also set up a Twitter account. Mother and daughter preach love, peace, and understanding. These are the message we need so much more of.

After the Super Bowl

Here’s the full, uncut version of the famous advertisement by 84 Lumber. It’s beautiful!

Another Look at “The Day After” and “The Trump Effect”on Our School Children

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Font cover of new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Since wondering “What do we tell the children?” in the aftermath of the 2016 election, much has been written about the sharp increase in bias incidents.  In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported 867 hate incidents in just the first ten days after the 2016 election, of which 183 took place in schools.  Earlier this year, this civil rights organization published a report on the deleterious effect of the open bias and bigotry that characterized much of the campaign; the results of which have been summarized in this space.

Some 10,000 people submitted more than 25,000 comments in this follow-up survey. Most shocking is that many teachers and other educational professionals who participated in the November 14 survey expressed the observation “The ugliness is new,” noting that they have not heard these statements of bigotry earlier in their careers.  Hateful and hurtful words have accompanied Nazi salutes and swastikas, and Confederate flags, also reported in Education Week and the Huffington Post.  (Colleges are also seeing an uptick in bias incidents, raising concern, especially among Jewish students.)  The climate of fear has been affecting teachers and students alike.

Recommendations, with links, are given at the end of the report; they include the following:

  • Administrators should communicate their school’s commitment to acceptance, inclusion, and safety.
  • Ensure students undergoing trauma (eight in ten students from marginalized groups) have the support they need.
  • Enforce anti-bullying strategies.
  • “Encourage courage,” urging all members of the school community to speak up and speak out against hate.  In other words,  “Neutrality won’t work.”
  • Prepare and know how to respond to a crisis.

A photo at the end shows a child holding a hand-written sign reading, “Dear Donald Trump, Please let Mexicans stay here because they may be our parents.”

 

Also noteworthy:

“We Need to Talk” – Post-election support and resources for educators and parents.

Actor and writer George Takei pleaded, “They interned my family.  Please don’t let them do it to Muslims.”

Is this your America, asks a Washington Post reporter.  “If you have never faced discrimination, you don’t get my fear of Trump.”

Schools across the US report an increase in post-election bias.

Comedian Sarah Silverman tells why learning to empathize is critical to our future.

Students and teachers wear safety pins in face of harassment: You are safe with me.

Jonathan Kozol speaks out: “I fight back.”

The City of San Francisco passed a resolution to stand up for all citizens and resist any Trump Administration threats.

A recent NPR piece reports on the problems and challenges of media literacy of students.

“America is worth it, our children are worth it, believe in our country, fight for our values, and never ever give up.”
– Hillary Clinton

 

 

Welcome Home: Hillary Speaks at CDF, Where She Began Her Work on Behalf of Children

On Wednesday, November 16, 2016, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)  hosted its 26th Beat the Odds Celebration at the Newseum in Washington, DC.  CDF honored Children’s Defense Fund Alumna Hillary Rodham Clinton for her dedication and contributions to child advocacy and the Children’s Defense Fund throughout her remarkable career.

“The Children’s Defense Fund is honored to celebrate and recognize a life-long champion of children who never gives up and never stops working to change the odds for children. Never has there been a more urgent time for all of us to help bind our wounds and heal our divisions and work for a nation and world where all children are respected and protected and no child is left behind. We thank Hillary who has been a tireless voice for children from the Children’s Defense Fund’s beginning as a young staff attorney, then board member and board chair,” said Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Secretary Clinton spoke passionately about children and the scourge of childhood poverty.

– See more at: http://www.childrensdefense.org/newsroom/cdf-in-the-news/press-releases/2016/CDFCelebratesHillaryRodhamClinton.html#sthash.mtxugJdB.dpuf

The Day After: “What Do We Tell the Children”?

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A very strange party (if one can call it that) went into the wee hours of the morning after Election Day 2016.  Many adults have been behaving very badly.  And, soon, the children will be up, getting ready for another day of school in the middle of the week.  Oh no!  What do we tell the children?  And embarrassment should be the least of our emotional worries.

As this blog covers issues pertaining to the welfare of children, the extraordinarily hurtful dialogue (if one can call it that) and public commentary has been a notable concern for the actual harm it has been doing on children.  This concern was discussed in a Southern Poverty Law Center report, “The Trump Effect,” and addressed in a May 30 post here and revisited in an editorial by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.

To be clear, this is not a comment on politics or an ideology.  Those topics are off topic here and, anyway, have been discussed elsewhere.  The purveying of fear and hate by public and private figures, and its effect on children are not Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal.

Teaching Tolerance, via the Southern Poverty Law Center, has always offered civics curricula for teaching the election and the importance of voting.  This year, for the reason just mentioned,  is not at all like the other ones.  How do teachers tell students about something that will have a profound effect on them, yet something in which they had no say?  In other words, what do teachers do on “The Day After”?

First, “keep politics out and values in.”  That starts with the teacher.  How do current events make me feel?  How am I coping with them?  Keeping a journal and talking with others are good ways to process feelings.  After that, it is time to think about how to make “core values and democratic ideals” a part of the classroom culture.  Suggestions from Teaching Tolerance include:

  • Defend equal voice.  Every student gets to speak and deserves to be heard.
  • Teach democracy.  This is a classroom of, by and for the students.
  • Make my classroom cafe. We will establish norms that create a safe environment for all students.
  • Ensure fairness.  I will speak up when I hear or see bias, exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

The organization urges teachers to “Publicly commit to these values in your classroom and encourage students and colleagues to commit to them, too.”  Offered are contracts for civility in the classroom and civility in the school.  In addition, further resources are available for teaching the facts about current events, civics, and history.  Above all, “let the students speak.”  

It should be noted that the parent organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported an unprecedented surge in hate incidents over the first two days of the election, with anti-Black and anti-immigrant in the lead, followed by anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ.

Rethinking Schools, part of the Zinn Education Project, also offers resources that can be used in constructing lesson plans.  It should be noted that this organization also fosters an activist teachers view; that type of involvement is up to the individual teacher.

PBS talked to teachers and other education professionals around the country to ascertain their reactions and, more important, how the election has affected their students.

Finally, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, presented in her Child Watch column her views on “bringing America together for our children’s sake.”   

A future column will be devoted to children and young people with disabilities.

 

 

Some other thoughts:

A father, Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, pens a letter of fear and hope to his daughter.

Says Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, what Abraham and Sarah can best teach us is that parenthood is a means of imparting goodness and justice, one of our greatest blessings.

We need to strengthen communities, say The Huffington Post and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Children around the understand the power of love, singing the Beatles’ famous classic, as well as the one day in December 2009, when children were joined with adults in 156 countries.

Who Speaks for New Jersey’s Children of Undocumented Parents?

…and perhaps of undocumented children as well.  I taught children like these as a bilingual teacher several years ago.  And children like these – children with dreams as big as their hearts – are among the closest friends of my daughters.  Most come from areas of extreme poverty; many come from areas that, because of violence, are among the most dangerous places in the world.

mother and child migrant

By Gillette, Bill, 1932-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464444) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This fine editorial, “Children of Fear,” offers much insight and valuable advice.

Rescuing the Children Who Are “Too Small to Fail”

Nicholas Kristof wrote a superb editorial in the New York Times on the choices we could and should make on behalf of our children, ages 0 to 3, or the first 1,000 days.  His philosopy: Let’s invest in children, “who are too small to fail.”

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He cites several studies, both standalone and collections of important essays.  Of the latter, of note is a brand-new book, The Leading Edge of Childhood Education.

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This 2016 book is an excellent companion to the excellent 2014 book, also by Harvard Graduate School of Education, Improving the Odds for America’s Children, of which a prominent theme is that we have sufficient money to spend on children; it is a matter of setting priorities and making decisions that will benefit America’s children.

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As this blog asked in the previous entry:  Are the candidates for president addressing issues that concern our children and are the media paying any attention?  It’s all about setting priorities and making choices.

Thanksgiving – My Family, Syrians, and Arctic Wolves

First, to my dear readers, a happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

While I look forward to spending time with some of my precious family, for which I am extremely grateful, my heart continues to ache for those who are separated from their families.  I think of the Syrian refugees, of whom more than half are children.  I continue to shed tears for them, for how they have been treated by the despots in their home countries, as well as for how these people have become scapegoats, targets of shameful racist demagoguery both among existing politicians and candidates seeking political office next year.

Arctic Wolf Family

A family of Arctic wolves spends time together at the Lakota Wolf Preserve, Columbia, NJ. PHOTO: Copyright 2015, Daniel L. Berek

Wolves are often portrayed in popular literature and folklore as the evil.  Of all the pictures I have taken of these magnificent animals, this one best shows how popular myth so often gets it wrong.  My point: the same applies to the hateful things said about the Syrian refugees and Muslims in general.  My experiences with both show the opposite.

So, on this Thanksgiving, before I join members of my own family, I took a few moments to pen a letter to President Barack Obama, to express my support for his wise and humane policies regarding the refugees and immigrants.   In my letter, I express my feelings that his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees “has great metaphorical and practical meaning, as that is the number of children saved during the Holocaust, thanks to the Kindertransport and the generosity of the British people.”

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