Every year I'm required to take child development courses to remain qualified for my job. Over the years I've read lots and lots of studies about how children learn and what I should and should not be teaching them.
One of the main issues people always bring up during political debates is our education system. We are forever being bombarded with talk of how we as a country are falling behind. Politicians discuss the need to push science and math at younger and younger ages. Families worry if their 2 year old can't write his name yet, if their infant isn't able to identify the sound a cow makes, if their kindergartner can't tie her shoes. While I do believe that all of these things are important, the way I see it they are not the lessons that I need to focus on teaching.
I believe we are falling behind in a very different way.
I believe that the most important lessons that I can teach the children I have the honor to work with are the lessons about how to get along with other people.
In my class we have the children develop a list of classroom rules at the start of every school year. The rules differ slightly each year, but are always essentially the same.
1. Keep your hands/feet/mouth/body to yourself.
2. Listen to your teachers
3. Raise your hand and wait for your turn to speak
4. Keep our classroom clean and organized
5. Use kind words
6. Take turns/share
I watch the news and I see so much ignorance and intolerance and I really wish that we could force everyone to go back to preschool and learn the basics. I wish I could sit everyone down and go over the rules. I particularly wish I could explain this to our politicians and celebrities.
1. Keep your hands/feet/mouth/body to yourself. - you do not have the right to touch anyone without their permission. You may not hit, kick, bite, scratch, strangle, shoot, rape, kill another person for any reason. I don't care if they do something that makes you mad. I don't care if they sat closer than you wanted them to. I don't care if they took your toy. I don't care if you don't like the way they look, or what they said, or what they believe. You do not have the right to take matters into your own hands. Your rights/beliefs/feelings/desires are not more important than theirs.
2. Listen to your teachers- Realize that there are people in the world who know more about different topics than you do. Respect that. Open your ears and your mind and hear what they are trying to teach you. Realize that we are all teachers and we all deserve that same respect. Realize that we are all students who can learn new lessons every single day if we pay attention.
3. Raise your hand and wait for your turn to speak- Respect your fellow human beings. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.
4. Keep our classroom clean and organized- Realize that we all have to share this planet, and that our resources have to last for future generations. Don't be wasteful. Work together to keep things tidy. Don't break things. Put everything back the way you found it before you move on.
5. Use kind words- We all get hurt or angry sometimes. That doesn't make it ok to lash out at others. If someone does something to upset you, TELL THEM. Don't call them names. Don't shout at them. Don't talk about them behind their back. Tell them that you are upset and why, and then talk it out until you both feel better.
6. Take turns/share- There are a lot of people on this planet. No one single person (country) deserves anything more than anyone else does. Our resources are limited and we all need to take turns with them to make sure we all have what we need.
These are the important lessons in life. Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies...all of those things are good to know and understand but they are not the lessons that I most want my daughter to learn. I want her to learn patience, tolerance, kindness, empathy. I want her to have a wide open mind. I want her to know how to love and to be loved.
These are the lessons that I hope I've taught to every single child I've had the honor to teach over the last 20 years. By my calculations that should be roughly 400 people by now. 400 people who are hopefully passing those lessons along to others. This is the thought that gets me out of bed every morning. This is the thought that keeps me going to work at a job that pays little in monetary currency but so very much in the emotional kind.
I have a voice and I CAN make a difference. So can you.