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Holidays Can Present Dual Realities for Children

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Each year at this time of holidays our minds turn to family and traditions, to faith and to friends, food, and gifts. Newspapers are laden with ads and coupons. Our inboxes are also. Store parking lots are filled with cars, everyone is hurrying somewhere. Schools, too, prepare for the holidays. There is a frenzy about this time of year.

Since we began writing this blog, we have written about the children for whom this time is a sad time, a time where there is no abundance, a time when family may be absent, a feeling of being different and apart, of not belonging, of being conspicuous because of what is missing or invisible because no one is noticing. These children can be 5 or 15.  The feelings are the same regardless of age but perhaps anger has infiltrated the adolescent's other feelings. Everyone around them rushing about, buying, giving, and receiving 'things', with joyous music in stores and aisles filled with decorations and gift ideas. They are in another reality, one of limited resources and, sometimes, one of limited love. Two realities become clear; ours and theirs. 

This raises something that has been on our minds for some time now. This year, it appears there is more happening in this way. We hope educators are watching out for these children especially at this time of year but we wonder who is watching out for the educators themselves. They, too, can find themselves struggling between two realities. Politics is replacing morality. Votes matter more than character. Truth is determined by who said it. Healthy discussions and intellectual disagreements have become lost capacities. Washington is the capital fo division and it disrupts our ability to build a season of joy and peacefulness that is inclusive even for ourselves.

The most recent separation of realities is the report of the tax bill. No one really knows the details of its content but the Republicans who voted on it seem really happy, while the Democrats step up and say the vote happened before anyone could actually read the tome. In actuality, even with more days to study it, they would be voting against it, right?

Along with the weekend news came a story about the suicides of two young girls, one in Colorado and one in California, both of whom had been victims of bullying. Maybe none of this is new, maybe we just hear more about it now but it is disturbing nevertheless. Our thoughts turn to Ingrid Bergman and the movie Gaslight. From that film came the term "gaslighting". Assuming many readers may have not seen it, here is a definition of Gaslighting from an article in Psychology Today:

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed.

Today we find ourselves living in an environment where we are told what we see isn't what we see, what was said isn't what was said, what was meant wasn't what we heard. No matter the 'side' one belongs, the fact is, facts seem fluid and realities are different, one from the other. This places us in a new and unusual place as the adults. And if we aren't aware and addressing it internally, then we are less able to help those children who this season as a dual reality. 

We suggest that educators need to pause early in this season to refresh our own reality and be mindful of what the season means. The people in our lives, giving and receiving, generosity of our time, talents and resources, creating warm and caring communities for all.  Consider minimizing or even taking a day long hiatus from the news. Find sources of hope and people with whom who want to spend more time.   

This is an opportunity for a truly empathetic moment. This split of realities is one that some of our students experience each and every day. Whether they are the little ones who come to school without backpacks or socks, or lunch money, or the teens who look to see what others are wearing and compare what they have to what others have, or the beautiful one who is called ugly and dumb, we have students who are disconnected.  We contribute to that disconnection by ignoring it as if it wasn't there. 

And ,we make mistakes.  There was the time a dedicated, open-hearted principal arranged to send students home with food for the weekend in backpacks.These students were chosen based upon information uncovered by teachers, social workers and the nurse. Happily they all participated in the Friday afternoon ritual of delivering the backpacks to the seelcted children in their classrooms at the end of the day.  It was intended to be a generous and thoughtful act. The reality though was those children felt further separated from the reality of the others. As any good leader would do, this principal quickly recognized the mistake and worked to find a less visible way to help these children without further contributing to their division from the greater reality they spend their days in with their classmates and teachers. 

Each of you work in a different environment and there is no one suggestion for change here. Accepting all, supporting all, simply seeing all and lsitening is important. Awareness that our reality during this holiday season is not the reality of many of our students. Sending them home with food or gifts is a generous act. It is also a generous act to remember that they are our learners and in order to be good at learning they have to belong and feel part of the reality of the day. There is no one answer to helping someone develop a sense of belonging but all of us need to know that feeling. If we can consider a time when we felt lonely or different from those around us, we may know how these children feel. In that common moment, we can find answers for how to face this in a new way and help these children feel seen and heard and understood. That is the true and best holiday gift to give them.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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