I was once a fifth-grade teacher. I say once, because once a teacher...well always a teacher. I was an English Language and Social Studies teacher. I say once. I left education, not because of the students...but because of the restrictions of what children should learn about the world around them.
As a non-traditional educator, I colored outside the lines. I also taught in inner city, urban schools. And I say non-traditional because I was always having to redo my curriculum lesson plans to adhere to the district’s curriculum.
For example, one month my social studies lesson centered around the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929. For inner city children, who were not only miles away from Wall Street, but who also had no idea of what the stock market was, I decided the best way to help them learn was to make the lesson real. So, I found an app that would allow them to invest (with points no real cash) and formed three teams. We would carry the lesson out I figured the entire term, so they would learn not only the lesson of the crash, but how to invest as they grew older. As an avid investor, I knew the benefits.
However, the school frowned upon my decision and we spent a day learning why the market crashed and we moved on.
But this post is not about how our educational system needs to change. And it is not a post to bash school administrators, or teachers. My father was a schoolteacher and administrator for his entire adult life. But what he taught us, and his students was the diversity in ideas, formed in the minds of children, is what makes the world a better place.
My father taught us that the spark of imagination is what changes community and moves our humanity forward.
One semester, I was walking down the hall with a group of teachers leaving a staff meeting and a young man who was in eighth grade approached us. Smiling, he greeted us very cheerily with Assalamu alaikum...the Muslim greeting for “peace be with you.”
The teachers in the group instantly begin to scold and reprimand him. "You say good morning to teachers," one said. Another said, "we speak English here!" Quite honestly, I was at a loss. And the young man looked deflated.
What had occurred in that environment was cultural assimilation. But what I saw was a young man searching for an identity and his place in the world. With all the violence around him in his inner-city community, he grabbed a hold of something that would make his life have meaning. Surrounded by others in his own school that did not appreciate the diversity in thought this new ideology could or would give him.
A few days later I was walking down the hall to my class and the same young man was walking towards me. "Assalamu alaikum," I said. Shocked, he asked if I was Muslim.
No, I told him, but I wanted to give you a peace blessing as well. "Alaikum assalam," he replied with a broad smile. Wishing me peace in return. I took that opportunity to learn several different Arabic phrases. He would stop by my class each morning and evening and we would share a different phrase or word we had learned. I would still hear other teachers reprimanding him to speak English. But I knew that what he wanted out of his life was more than they could ever know.
Diversity and inclusion begin and end in the minds of children, and in the ideas we allow to flourish in them. Today, tomorrow, and always let the children lead us. They are so much better at telling us about the world they wish to grow up and flourish in.
I have no idea what happened to that young man. I only wish someone else came along in his life to help cultivate his journey of peace and love in his world, that he was so willing to share with another.
Assalamu alaikum to you today. Peace be with you. And perhaps, just perhaps we can all find peace along our own journey.
And that's a brilliant glimpse of insight!