What are we to do?

When I was seven years old I often took rides with my father as he worked as a sales associate for Whitman’s Chocolates. He would go to different stores, we called them drug stores back then, and would talk to the store managers and would look at the candy on the shelves. His territory covered parts of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. where he was born and raised as a child. In 1968, I’m not sure why, he took me with him to visit a drug store after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. The store we visited had metal accordion gates in front of the storefront and was one of just a few stores that were not burned down or seriously damaged.

I’m not sure why he took me with him that day, my father was not one to make political or even moral lessons out of anything except maybe on the fields of play of various sports because in his heart, his job was really father and coach, his salesman gig was what he did to make money.

Growing up in the 60s I was very aware of society changing dynamics, that is, as much as a curious and always reading and listening to music kid could be. Today, I think about why my dad brought me that day. I don’t remember the discussion but I easily remember the images and maybe even little video clips of what I saw. That’s how I mostly navigate reality, in a visual way. Those days the TV screen included daily body counts from the Vietnam War and some incidences of civil unrest related to both the war and civil rights.

Now 52 years later, we are living with a pandemic and once again we are experiencing and visualizing civil strife in our city streets. We are seeing or experiencing protests and riots, however you define these or separate these. The world seems topsy turvy to us and we can only wonder how 2020’s seven year olds are experiencing these upheavals. Fortunately, I had great caring parents and my teachers to rely on. I also had my friends to share the experiences with and I often interacted with older children and other adults who helped shape my experiences and points of view. 

So what are we to do as educators and parents in these times? This is a very big question.  No one has exactly the right answer to this question regardless of our desire to share platitudes and words of wisdom. Words do not meet this challenge though they are deeply important as we – the human race – are so tuned to and by language. We are equally tuned to and by visuals. We see the actions about us. We are also tuned by the spirit, the as yet, un-objectified, unscience explained nature in us all. 

As educators, in these times, I can only say that I have great belief in parents and teachers to continue to do the things that matter most to children and to learn to do some new things. Caring is the number one focal point in these times that children will look to for reference points. Who cares for me? Who should I care for? These questions are among the things that may have been destabilized or for some fortunate children, accentuated for the positive. 

Our recently gathered thought exchanges and survey responses are yielding information about how teachers and parents are experiencing these coronavirus times. A common theme that has emerged is that children and families need more and different ways of being connected to their teachers and schools. 

So what are we to do? Keep doing the things we have always done that help children be safe, feel well, and learn. Start doing and learning to do things that help children make sense of the world and society that we ourselves are trying to make sense of. As is usually the case when we have children in our physical spaces with us, when we get them involved together with us in making sense together, we find the best balances of what teachers will do, parents will do, and children will do.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with so many caring educators, parents, and children these past 34 years in public education work. They have shaped me to see the world as far more filled with loving, curious, creative, optimistic and intelligent human beings than with the small minority of often tragically life-scarred people who behave in these times or any other times in ways other than lovingly and caring for others. 

I think of these times as a great big fire. What are we to do? We have to figure out together what to put on it, or whether to put anything on it at all so we can get to the post fire times and then think hard and long and act so this fire is less damaging to the planet and to the human species when it raises its head again.

My father was a man of few words with me. He loved me but didn’t really say it. His caring for me was ever present. His children and children in general were his life’s work, though I don’t think he thought much about his life’s work or if he did he didn’t tell me. My father was great in an emergency. In crisis. He was born to it, experienced many, but led by example. Now more than ever is the time to ponder our actions in relation to a big fire and how our actions, our words, our beings impact and affect ourselves and others. 

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