From Light to Darkness to Light: A Time for Hope

By sheer coincidence, the Torah portion (parsha) reading for Shabbat following the inauguration is Shemot, the first five chapters of the book of Exodus. Anyone who has taken part in a Passover Seder will be familiar with much of the meaning of Exodus. The story is one of darkness, followed by redemption and light, ending on a note of faith in great things to come.

 

Turning Curses into Blessings

In the aftermath of what must be the most depressing and nasty election campaigns in U.S. history, capped by a very dark inaugural address, the story of Exodus gives hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in December 2015 wrote an inspirational commentary on this very parsha, “Turning Curses into Blessings.” He remarks on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. Then, continues Rabbi Sacks, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he says, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

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“Departure of the Israelites,” by David Roberts, 1829 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Women’s March, by VOA Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The multitudes of the Israelites said they would not have any more of Pharaoh’s oppression and embarked on a great march. On Saturday, January 21, the day immediately after the inauguration of President Trump, people across the nation and around the world declared they would not stand for the erosion of civil rights his rhetoric and views represent. The story of the protests, like the book of Exodus, offers much reason to hope, for us in the present and, more important, our children in the future.

The book of Exodus tells of suffering under an oppressive tyrant. For the Israelites, things get worse before they get better. However, in the end, they – with divine intervention – rid themselves of Pharaoh.

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“Crossing the Red Sea,” by Nicholas Poussin

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Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Hardening One’s Heart

Pharaoh’s heart became harder with each passing plague set upon the Egyptians. During the initial plagues, Pharaoh had the opportunity to let the Israelites go. Eventually, however, God took away Pharaoh’s free will, hardening his heart for him.

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Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

Because everyone is capable of redemption, Pharaoh had one last chance at the Sea of Reeds. With his heart ever hardened, he led his troops into the sea. I find myself asking what will happen to President Trump’s heart. Will his heart soften, or will he lead his followers into the salty depths?

 

Speaking for All People

In this parsha, Chapter 4 (verses 10 through 17), Moses tells God, “Please, O Lord, I hav never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation). The text continues: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'”

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Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses and Aaron Speak to the People (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

In other words, all people – despite their disability – are equal in God’s creation. His brother, Aaron, assists him with speaking, but eventually it is Moses who leads his people out of darkness to a land of milk and honey.

Thank You, President Obama

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Calendars everywhere proclaim today, January 20, 2017, as Inauguration Day. As someone who is dedicated to advocating for children, as well as people with disabilities and other marginalized communities (e.g., African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBT people), for me today is a day to say good bye to a champion of these groups, to thank him and the First Family for all they have done. Barack Obama has been a man of action, a man of words and conviction, and a role model.

Clearly, Obama touched the lives of so many Americans who wrote to him. He took it upon himself to answer at least ten letters a day. Some of the letters were angry. Yet, Obama took the time to respond with hope and empathy.

Indeed, the First Family was “a master class in dignity and civility.” But “Did we learn what they taught?”  

Ellen DeGeneres, likewise a figure of humor and grace, gave an eight-year retrospective tribute to the president she said she loved as much as admired:

 

My “Obama moment”? There are so many, but his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the horrific hate crime shooting of the church’s pastor and congregants engaged in a Bible study will forever haunt me. As will Barack Obama’s tearful speech after the unspeakable shooting and murder of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

OK, that was many years after I read his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The year 2008 seemed like a time in which we, with the life-affirming optimism of the child, could dare to dream and hope.

Obama’s January 10 farewell speech was magic.

As was his letter of farewell, in which he said “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’ Yes, we can.”

And one more time from his Obama Foundation, he and Michelle, thanked the nation.

His legacy was erased from the White House website as soon as Mr. Trump took the oath of office. Fortunately, it has been preserved in archives. And Barack Obama invites people to share their thoughts with him.

I no longer follow @POTUS on Twitter. It’s now @POTUS44. And @FLOTUS44. No longer @Whitehouse, but @ObamaWhiteHouse, White House Archived.

 

Barack Obama has reason to thank this great nation. However, I want to thank him and his wonderful family.

Yes, we can.

For that, President Obama, I am thankful.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities & “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want

Unlike most disability awareness days, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a global recognition of a major part of the world’s population. The day not only recognizes people with all disabilities, but also advocates for full inclusion of the disability community in society at large. This is especially important in the field of special education, a field that counts among its pioneers Maria Montessori, Elizabeth Farley, and Janusz Korczak.

Celebrating Individual Abilities

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Although most awareness months and days are on a national scale, this December will feature a global undertaking to raise awareness and promote advocacy.  December 3 is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  This is an effort to “promote action and raise awareness about disability issues and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all.”  Observed since 1992, this day focuses on a different theme around the world each year.  For 2016, the theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want.”

The objective of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is to raise awareness of all types of disabilities and dispel archaic ideas and stereotypes and stigma, as these are often “the greatest barrier to their full and equal participation in society and development on an equal basis with others.”  Moreover, over the course of our lives, most of…

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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.

Remembering and Appreciating Natalie Babbitt

Readers of Natalie Babbitt’s classic learn that immortality is not all it’s made out to be.  However, this gifted author’s classic, Tuck Everlasting, will live on in the memories of readers young and old who are lucky enough to have read this classic.  Natalie Babbitt is also one of a select group of great children’s authors who won the Janusz Korczak Medal for children’s literature.  These books embody the empathy for the child for which Janusz Korczak will be remembered for generations to come.  The New York Times published this heartfelt obituary.

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This is the cover of the special 40th Anniversary Edition of Natalie Babbitt’s classic.