First, I am saddened and angered by what happened to the teacher who received the email and want to say that I am so sorry. I hope many feel it happened, not to the same degree but in some ways, to all of us. Honestly, I am pretty down as I write this. I am not hopeless, though. That is because I know many students (and adults) in this school system/town who will not tolerate this.
Whether we have shared just a smile, a full-on “Hello” in the hall, a joined lesson in elementary or middle school; whether I was your school counselor, or I am your counselor now, I tend to think of you as one of “My” kids. Many educators think along that line. You know me, I practically wear pride in my identity as an African American educator on my sleeve…AND… You make me smile, make my day brighter than I thought it could be, and make me proud. If it was more than hallway encounters, you visit(ed) my office just to say “Hi”, to check-in, to shoot baskets, to draw something for me to put on my wall, to share something funny, something that made you proud, or something that annoyed you. You laugh(ed) when I talk and talk about my favorite food. When I think of “My” Kids in the Wellesley Public School system (WPS) I think of kids who made some mistakes when they were young and will continue to make some as we all do, but who, in thinking about the email, would NEVER tolerate such language and sentiments being espoused in their presence or in any arena. I think of kids who have listened to and participated in discussions and activities focused on moving past tolerance and respect for human differences to celebrating differences. I think of kids who know hate, bias, and racism exist in our midst and outside, who are perplexed by them (as young idealists), and who are motivated to eradicate them at the same time (as young idealists). These are kids who take to the television news and social media to denounce hurtful, hateful actions publicly, to say they too are hurt by such actions, to say they will not ignore these behaviors, and who, in real time, shut it down when they have the chance.
Two things come to mind. Honestly, if you know me you know I always say that but really mean six things come to mind. One profound hope of mine is that “My” Kids, the ones who have treated me with the utmost respect, kindness, and civility are also kids who have treated the teacher who received the email that way in her introductory year with WPS. I hope she gets to see and feel an insane and overwhelming level of welcoming sentiment that makes her feel valued not just after something like this but always. I hope “My” kids have been smiling at her and saying “Hello” in the halls all year long and, I guess, especially now. Kids, have you shared a joke, asked about weekend plans or family, and been forthcoming about how much you value what diversity we have in our school system? Right now, it is my greatest hope that “My” kids have been and are acting as “Your” kids too. You are cared for, valued, and respected by so many. I just know it! I hope you do too!
In addition, it is only when kids speak up, stand up, and rise up that other kids (and some adults) feel it is NOT okay to carry out such acts of hate. It’s weird that I feel saddened and disheartened, but the person who sent the email and those who have committed similar acts recently and historically don’t have to feel the same way. They need to be told by young people how intolerable such behavior is. Of course, kids only feel confident with regard to speaking up, standing up, and rising up when the adults around them encourage, educate, and empower them.
Students, my long-time friends, and parents, guardians, and adults in the lives of “My” kids (as well as those who may not see themselves that way or who want no part of that), are you talking at home about race, racism, prejudice, bias, and/or the celebration of diversity? Students, share this special edition of The Bradford with adults around you. Adults, at the very least, please talk about what crosses a line in your family in terms of morality. We are pushing that work forward in schools. To be frank, I know not everyone loves me, truly, truly I do. I know not everyone celebrates diversity or the hiring of a teacher of color or counselor (Poll finds majority in US hold racist views Boston Globe 10/28/12), but what crosses a line in terms of the way you expect one another and those in your family, or under your watch, to carry themselves and to treat others? Do kids and young family members know? Have you talked about it? It is important for adults to be part of the thought process for kids (and adults, honestly) when it comes to civility, civics, and morality, if not about the fact that most of us are descendants of groups who were downtrodden, mistreated, not welcomed, not hired, and spat upon because of some component of our identity. There may have been a time when your cultural group was targeted and there are those who may still think that way about that very same group. Adults, what are your expectations for “Our” kids as they navigate their varied communities and arenas? Kids, bring it up and push to have the adults in your lives mix it up with you. Remind them that no one has all the answers, but there has to be a line of morality/civility. Whether you are a family like the one that empowered a fourth grader with whom I worked to share that his mom says we are so lucky to have the METCO program in Wellesley because that’s how we get different ideas and views or you just want to be sure your kids and family members are not causing shockwaves, tears, and shame, do you talk about those expectations and morals at home?
I have to assume some of those smiling faces I see are facades and behind them are feelings similar to those expressed in the email. After all, if you see this teacher that way you have to see and think of me that way too. I, Mr. Craft, am African American. I am Black. Knowing this, the idea that some I think to care about me the way I care about them actually see me in the vein of the “N-word” and such makes me feel somewhat naive and disappointed. Hearing that this teacher received such a vile email from someone in this community makes me feel sad, angry, and disheartened.
I am not hopeless, though. That is because I know many, many students (and adults) in this school system/town. They will not tolerate this!
With much love and hope, Mr. (Bill) Craft