When neo-Nazis demonstrated in a University town, in broad day light, and perpetrated violence, I was personally disgusted and troubled. I also needed to formulate a response as a parent and an educator.
For generations of Jews of who have borne witness, it is painful. It is particularly painful to witness this awful display of hatred at a time when we thought our country had moved beyond such expressions of hatred. I was shocked at the overt racism of the KKK and white supremacists and the brashness they displayed in shouting slogans like "Jews will not replace us."
As a parent, I have values that I hold dear and that I want to impart to my children. I believe all people are equal and deserve equitable opportunities to live a meaningful and secure life. I would like to prepare my children to live in a diverse world while being secure and proud of their own identity. I value living in a democracy where people are free to express their opinions and beliefs, even when they are abhorrent to me. I believe that as people learn about each other, they see our shared humanity, and use this recognition to address bias, stereotypes, and yes, hateful tendencies that are often emanate out of ignorance.
For parents, I think it is important to speak with our children directly about the incidents that took place in Charlottesville. Children need to hear from us that they are safe, and they also need to hear what we value and hold dear. Childhood psychologists contend that discussing difficult topics that hit close to home in age-appropriate ways is good for children's social and emotional development. Finally, it is a good practice to ask your children questions about what they know about Charlottesville. Knowing what your children know and how they are feeling enables parents to speak directly to their needs and fears.
Over thirty years ago, in Skokie, Ill., members of the Nazi Party of America sought to march in a community where 40,000 of the approximately 70,000 residents were Jewish. While the march never actually took place, my father took me to a huge counter rally in a neighboring town. I will always remember being there, a little scared of the emotionally charged environment, but empowered that I was part of the response to the hatred that was proposed. That was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had and it taught me to not be afraid to speak up, despite the fact that I was just 12 years old at the time.
As an educator, I believe that we should be addressing political issues directly. While I hold steadfast to the principle that educational institutions and teachers remain non-partisan because of the unequal power dynamics that exist in K-12 environments, research shows that students who participate in political discussions are more likely to engage as citizens when they are older. In a values-based environment, it is also essential to live and teach by the principles we espouse.
I am committed to creating learning environments that embrace differences of opinion and foster civil discourse. Teachers have a powerful role to serve by modeling positively how to have conversations. I am particularly insistent that history be used to ground those discussions; this is something that is essential for learning. Classroom communities also need to establish shared norms by discussing and setting clear rules and expectations for participation. Lastly, I feel it is important to prepare students for the conversations they have, and for educators to provide multiple modes for learners to participate in discussions and to reflect on both their ideas and views they do not share.
Our children and students are looking to us as parents and educators to see how we are responding to the hatred that was revealed in Charlottesville. We have an opportunity to teach students about their values, and to model a civil discourse that is all too infrequent in our society.