Listen to the Children
The 21st century educator's focus and calling is to be sure that schools are safe places for children to spend their days. We want children to know themselves as learners, to become engaged in problem solving, collaboration, communication, to learn how to treat others, while learning the values that sustain our democracy. Students come to learn to read stories that along the way become literature. They read biographies of great women and men and become readers of non-fiction. They write in a myriad of genres, solve mathematical problems, learn the basics in science, history, physical fitness, art, music, and technology. They come to learn and become part of a community.
We listen to the research, the thought leaders, community members, boards of education, business, mental health and health care providers. But, someday, we need to remember that the children also have something to say. There is value to listening to the children. Here, we are thinking about four.
Recently, Ellen Degeneres hosted a 5-year-old phenom named Noah Ritter who had been discovered by a reporter at the Wayne County Fair in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Interviewed by the news reporter when at that fair, Noah seemed fond of the word "apparently" and used it in almost every sentence. After the news report went viral, Ellen saw it and wanted to interview him on her show. During the interview she asked him about Kindergarten. At 2:20 minutes into this heartwarming video, Noah describes his experience.
"I think they are holding me for 11 hours. I felt like I was in prison for 10 days. Five days, that's a week. Ten days, a year." One five-year-old's perception of Kindergarten that offers a window into the Kindergarten experience; it is the first of thirteen years in which educators keep trying desperately to provide a wholesome and enriching learning environment. Noah's classroom may be wonderful but there are some for whom it, indeed, might feel like prison. That matters.
After the shooting death of 18-year-old, Michael Brown, in Ferguson Missouri, Another child, 11-year-old Marquis Govan, spoke in front of the St. Louis County Council on August 19th, and said,
The people of Ferguson, I believe, don't need tear gas thrown at them. I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don't need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses.
Speaking without notes, this youngster, being raised by his great-grandmother, spoke with intelligence, confidence, and insight. Children like Marquis are sitting in our classrooms also. That matters.
And ,then, there are the children of Adrian Peterson. One, a child he never really knew, will never get to Kindergarten because he died at the age of two when shaken to death by the boyfriend of the boy's mother. Now, another of Adrian Peterson's sons, a four year old who was hit by his father with a switch to the extent that the law found he met the standard for reckless or negligent injury to a child. This four year old is headed to our classrooms as well. That matters.
Children bring with them, into our schools, life stories. We might think they hadn't lived enough to have a lot to say but they do. Actually, these stories and every other child's story are all that matter. Our role is to add to those stories. Our questions are what is it we want to add, can we and how? Tyrese Ruffin, the two year old, will tragically never come to school but the others will. Teachers, leaders, and everyone who is in engaged in trying to improve schools need to hear their stories, otherwise how can we hope to meet their needs and include them as learners?
Welcomed into our schools and classrooms are children who can express their distain for the imposed routines and structure, who have insight into the social problems our nation faces and who remain engaged in understanding them. We have children who come from homes in which hands hurt and there are no arms to hug fear away from the little ones. Noah's and Marquis' pictures and videos are shared as we enjoy their talent and offer them our encouragement. Against his mother's appeals for sensitivity and compassion, the four year old Peterson child is having pictures of his scared legs shared with all of us. Who knows the additional impact those pictures will have on him? He needs us because, in his life, for sure, we will matter.