Yesterday I went to the Whaling National Park Visitor's Center in New Bedford where my students have had 4 collaborative art works on display in an exhibit with the theme "Strength in Diversity". We were asked to create art works that show how the past, present, and futures of our communities are affected and made stronger though our diversity.
Many of you know I grew up in and now teach in a district that is not known for being as diverse as some of our neighbors. When we started the project back in May, I asked the 22 students from 2 random classes who were going to be involved to write down and draw the flags that represent their families' nationalities. Along with the American flag we all share, even in that small group, we actually had more diversity among us than I had imagined: a wide variety of European nations and Canada, Dominican Republic, China, Cape Verde, and Cherokee to name a few. The kids included these flags in their art works, and some groups went further, adding in symbols of religions and for the LGBT community. One group added a fighter jet to remind us of how our military, every day, defends freedom for everyone, and they truly meant everyone.
When I looked at the art work, I remembered how these young people worked together without needing a lot of input from me to embrace diversity in our little town. They didn't need a lot of help understanding why our country's diversity is special and adds to the beauty our communities. I didn't have to explain to my students why respecting other humans who happen to be different from ourselves is an important and good message. They tend to know what's right, sometimes better than many adults.
Maybe that's because they are young, and things seem much more simple. But I think there is more to it than that. I believe that first and foremost, their parents are raising these children to be good human beings. I am grateful to these parents for teaching their children to be accepting and kind, and I am grateful to teach in a community where I much see more of this than the alternative. Another reason is that in our public schools, we work really hard to address bullying and bigotry when we see it and make sure that all students feel that they belong. I may avoid talking to my students about my personal political views in my classroom, but I make it clear that everyone is welcome here, and though I don't want to censor their voices and views, I do let them know that hate speech or imagery of any kind is not welcome at all.
As others have said before me, we are not born with hate. People can be taught to hate and oppress others, or they can be taught to have empathy and compassion. We can show our children, or anyone else we encounter, that all humans have equal value through our words and actions, openly discourage bigotry and hate when we see or hear it, and try to be kinder, more understanding people ourselves. In this way, every person can and will make a difference. I'll try my best to do that, especially in light of recent events.
Many sincere thanks to my student artists who created these artworks and give me hope for the future.
If you want to see the "Strength in Diversity" exhibit, it runs now through Sept. 30 at the Visitor's Center on Williams Street and features many beautiful entries from schools across Massachusetts.
You can also see more (and better) photos of the art work at https://fmsstudentartgallery.blogspot.com/2017/07/2017-dream-rocket-project.html