I tutor a young brother a sister in Spanish at a public library. One day, the 7-year-old was teasing me about my boyfriend.
“You have a boyyyyyfriend?” he said. “Do you kissssss him?”
“I’m an adult,” I said. “And my boyfriend and I love each other so yes, we do kiss each other.”
“Ewwww. I’m gonna kiss a boy.”
“Okay,” I said. “But wait until you’re older. You shouldn’t go around school kissing your classmates.”
“Boys can’t kiss boys,” he said.
“Yes they can,” I said. “You can love anyone you want. And when you’re old enough and have someone’s permission, it’s okay to kiss them.”
He wasn’t so pleased with that answer; a little confused, even. Because children are raised that boys kiss girls and girls kiss boys. At what point in their life are they taught that boys also kiss boys and girls also kiss girls?
Kids can be so unpredictable. You never know what they’re going to say, and sometimes their questions and comments put you on the spot with how you are going to respond. I try to prepare myself for the outrageous things kids might say, but I’m not always ready. All I know is that it is important to teach them kindness and acceptance, even if that isn’t the job I was hired for.
This, I think, is why I feel called to be a teacher. More than teaching children the ABCs and how to count, I feel called–compelled even–to teach them how to be kind to each other. To teach them how to use their words to process their feelings, regulate their behavior, and solve problems. To teach them how to be compassionate. To teach them to be activists; to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand up for it, for others.
As a teacher, a parent, or any child caretaker, we need to teach our children–the future generation–more. More than just the definition of prejudice and racism. More than just about the existence of prejudice and racism. We need to show them what we are doing to stop it. We need to gather our children and involve them in the fight for change instead of leaving them on the sidelines watching the world go by.
My town didn’t have a lot of diversity growing up, but my parents took me to the Christian food pantry to help collect and hand out donations. They didn’t stop me from accepting an invitation at 10 years old from my Muslim friend to attend a service at her mosque.
I see now, though, that diversity is a multi-faceted gem, and while there are things we have done to embrace it, there is always so much more we can and must do.
How will you show the future generation you care?