Perspective and Empathy
Holidays bring out the best and worst of people. The economy is putting stress on all of us no matter what your income. If you are poor, you are probably having more problems than just not having enough money to pay bills. I work with a high poverty middle school and am so in awe of children who put up with so much. One of the 6th grade teachers is doing “I am from” poems.
I read poems that tore at my heart strings. One boy wrote about living in a house with drunks and his mother dying of alcoholism. He had other things in the poem that I’ll share later when they create their digital stories with their poems. Other students wrote about unbelievable issues of lives unknown to me. I had to go out of the room and cry.
I’m so involved with my own life that I forget what our children are going through. All of us have more issues now than ever before because of the economy. Poor children are going through the most. They have no voice. Social services are overwhelmed and underfunded. They can only do so much. Schools have cut counselors and teachers are younger and don’t have the background or experience to deal with these issues. We are leaving more of our poor children behind than ever.
The reasons why they give up or leave school is more than the school’s problem. It is society’s problem. It is a matter of taking on their perspective and having empathy for their situation. It is our duty as adults to listen and to try to figure out what is happening to the child.
So I go back to my years in middle school: a white middle class 11-13 year old girl in Maryland. I remember wanting to be popular and liked. It was not the best time of my life. I was scared and didn’t know what was happening to my body. I was changing. I cried a lot for no reasons. I loved this boy or that boy. If they didn’t talk to me, I was devastated. So my perspective of middle school might have been the same as many young white middle class girls. I don’t even remember my teachers or the classes I took. I do remember sewing class and wearing one of my creations in a fashion show. But forget math or history. I don’t remember any of that. I remember I lost my best friend to Hodgkinson’s disease. That was awful, but I never knew anyone who had been shot or murdered.
This group of children I’m working with all know someone who has been shot. Many of them had a relative shot, a family member in jail, very rarely have breakfast or food on the table. I cannot even imagine what they go through. One child sleeps in the bathtub because that is the only safe place. Families are in trouble all over the US. If you are in trouble, there’s probably anger, yelling, crying, and everyone in the family is impacted. We cannot forget the children. What adults do in their homes or at school impacts the children.
Some children internalize everything so you never know there’s a problem. They smile on the outside and are so hurt on the inside. What I love about these “I am from” poems is that sometimes one child who is really in trouble opens up and writes what is happening to them. I believe our job as educators is more than teaching to a test especially for children at-risk and in crisis. Help your children to open up and share their feelings. Look at their perspective on life and have empathy for them. That’s what the holidays are about: sharing and loving each other — kindness and compassion.