I missed the Millennial Bloggers’ deadline for publishing this blog, despite the fact that it was written and ready. It’s been a journey, facing the fact that the next president will be a candidate I couldn’t believe ever became a serious contender. There was a whole range of emotions I felt, ranging from simple shock to disillusionment, fear, uncertainty, and everything in between. De-tangling these emotions and making sense of them seemed too hard – so I detached instead, choosing to focus upon my day-to-day. But I realize I can no longer be the child who pretends something hidden doesn’t exist, and so I thought it was time these words were posted.
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
~ Paul Farmer
When I walked into 5C, most students there shrugged if any of their peers implied they were too “stupid” or “undeserving”. Two years later, one of the students in the classroom explained, “Now we don’t think that they are better or we are better; we all get equal opportunities.”
It was just two years of their life, but their mindsets were fundamentally reshaped. What changed?
The idea of justice is something I held close to my heart from a very young age. When I was six, and food for a baby monkey was snatched by a larger one, I stood with my hands akimbo and lectured the rather befuddled large monkey. The idea grew stronger as I became older and saw the world’s inequities first-hand as I traveled between the US and India every summer.
When I got to my classroom at the age of twenty-two, I knew there was a lot I needed to learn. But I also knew that it was impossible to reach Teach for India’s vision of “One day, all students will attain an excellent education” without justice – without providing equal opportunities to all students, regardless of gender, religion, previous achievement, or any other metric.
And it wasn’t easy, to make a message land when a lot of what they had heard previously was precisely the opposite. When even their parents believed their children were stupid and incapable, it was an uphill battle to get the students to give themselves a chance. But they did.
Two years with a teacher, and we were able to reshape their mindsets fundamentally.
Imagine what kind of influence four years of an American president has on the children.
The rhetoric you hear around you get ingrained into your way of thinking. If racism is unacceptable in your community and your world, you automatically bat away racist thoughts from your mind. But if suddenly, the man occupying the highest office in the country – the man who half the country elected – not only believes such rhetoric is acceptable, but in fact runs on a platform of these views and wins, that changes how people think.
The policy implications of Trump’s election do stir fear in my mind. Climate change, healthcare, women’s rights, international relations – all of these may regress several years under his tenure.
But what keeps up awake at night is the potential impact this election will have on children. There are already young students telling immigrant peers to “go back.” That scares me. That’s an entire generation believing that someone’s skin color or native language and region determines their rights. Fundamentally, that throws into question the basic tenets upon which this country was founded.
A few months ago, on this blog, I discussed the necessity of teachers and school systems understanding how to culturally integrate migrants into their communities. I wrote:
And yet, to create the world for our children where the “content of their characters” is foremost, educational institutions must pave the path. Systems must change. Mind-sets must readjust. Children will learn.
Now, more than other, the onus falls upon educational institutions. Teachers and parents must not only complement the teachings of the political system, but go against it. There is no turning back from this unforeseen outcome. The nation is divided, and there are toxic and hateful views on both sides. We must work cautiously and consciously towards a healthier, more prosperous future. We must heed Obama’s advice to his daughters, that “your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.”
Growing up in the midst of this anger and hatred is one of worst environments for children. It is therefore more crucial than ever to listen, to let voices be heard, to understand, empathize, and work tirelessly – it’s not just our futures that are on the line, but theirs as well. And even though there are some outcomes we cannot reverse, it is definitely within our power to ensure that the messages that are delivered to students are the ones we want them to hear.