Friday, October 29, 2010

Helping All Kinds Of Families

Helping All Kinds Of Families

I wrote this piece for the Southern Poverty Law Center and they posted it on the Teaching Tolerance website. I love to write and writing for the SPLC is my "political impulse" motive for writing, my desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society they should strive for.

The small essays I write for the SPLC often deal with controversial topics, as political writing often does. They are confrontational by nature and are bound to meet resistance from people with different thoughts and feeling on the subject matter. I welcome this confrontation and resistance because it is through them that we grow. I always welcome your opinions and feedback - both for and against my ideas - and value your friendship!

Helping All Kinds Of Families

It was meet-the-teacher night at my elementary school. The room was ready for a new class of second-graders. The rubric for grading paragraphs and stories was on the wall around the writing center. A scientific method poster hung on the wall in the science corner. Essential questions for numbers and operations were on the chalkboard in the math area. And a picture commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education was on the social studies wall. I was ready to help my children become successful students.

Seven-year-olds can be gregarious when they get to know you, but they are typically shy when being introduced to people. I smiled as my new students hid behind their parents and grandparents upon entering my room. I looked into their eyes, shook their hands and told them how happy I was to be their teacher. “Who are you?” I asked myself about them, “And who will you become this year in my classroom?”

I was surprised when a little boy named D walked into the room, looked up at me, and said, “Hey!” He started talking as if we had known each other our whole lives. He was a living definition of the word “gregarious.” Soon, his mom caught up with him. “I can already tell I'm going to have a good year with your son,” I told her. She looked down at the floor, and I saw that she was the shy one in their family. “Um, can I talk with you?” she asked.

We sat down at the writing table. “D's dad doesn't live with us,” she began. “He has two moms. I have a partner. We've been together for two years. I wonder, what do you think about that?”

I remembered reading an article a few years ago about the way we feel the world. The author pointed out that the thoughts and emotions we develop about economics, culture, religion and politics are formed by what we see out our back screen doors. I was born and raised in the Upstate of South Carolina, so the world around me has formed me to see D's mom as—what?

One of the U.S. senators from my state, Jim DeMint lives in my town. Recently, he reaffirmed his belief that gay people should not be public school teachers. I wonder what he would have said to D's mom. I wonder how he would see lesbian and gay parents and students if he were a teacher. Can you treat people with dignity and respect, can you treat people as human beings, if you cannot accept their sexual orientation as a part of who they are?

“I am here to help D become the very best student he can be,” I answered. “And I am here to support you, I am here to support your partner, I am here to support your family. I am here. Let's work and see what good things we can build together.” I hope for the day we can work and build good things together—all of us.