Educating the Whole Child in Times of Civil Unrest

The power of honest conversations
Cs5 Unvyayorpn. Small
Twitter via @ESPortillo

Educating the whole child has become somewhat of an educational buzz phrase. But what does it mean?

Stripped down to its core, a whole child perspective means that learning doesn’t happen just in classrooms with textbooks, and students aren’t just students; life and learning go hand in hand, and every child has a life context that they do not leave behind when they enter the classroom door.

Children learn through play and through life experiences much more readily than through worksheets. They need to move, create, imagine, and make mistakes. They learn responsibility by completing homework but also by learning to do the dishes.

Lessons are filtered through the experiences that children have both in and out of school, and then those lessons are internalized and applied in both spaces. And the cycle continues.

Last night, I received – along with thousands of other CMS parents – a ConnectEd call from Superintendent Ann Clark about counseling services available to our students in the wake of violence and trauma in our city, and I began reflecting anew about what it means to educate the whole child.

This morning, I was torn about whether or not to discuss last night’s protests in Charlotte with my fourth grader. She would be testing today, and I didn’t want her to be distracted.

The last time she and I had a serious conversation about systemic violence and bias against people of color, she sat pensively by the window for a very long time—sad, confused, angry, scared.

I didn’t want her mind to be in that place before trying to “just relax and do your best,” as we tell her the night before any test.

But not every child is so lucky to put the sting of violence on hold.

This morning, I also walked my daughter to the bus stop. In the drizzle, I flipped up my hood, my white ankles peeking out from my sweatpants, my blonde hair gathered behind my ears, and my hand tucked in my pocket, wrapped around my smart phone. And I was not afraid.

But not all of our citizens, neighbors, friends, or family members are so lucky.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts keeps talking about “continued dialogue,” whether about HB2 or racial tensions. Chief of Police Kerr Putney has asked that we “change the narrative,” as well as listen to the stories of our fellow community members whose perspectives we may not share.

And in this dialogue, we can argue about what facts we do and do not have in each individual police shooting case. But as those individual cases amass, the patterns are too clear to continue denying.

We can quibble over whether to call them riots or protests. But as the peaceful calls for justice, reform, or even basic acknowledgement are largely ignored or sneered at, righteous anger rots. The dignified anger of peaceful protests too long ignored becomes the destructive anger of bricks flung through windows.

Dr. King famously called riots “the language of the unheard.”

And this morning, I recognized that as a white parent of a white child, I could choose whether or not to burden my daughter with the weight of this news. I could choose the timing of the conversation to suit our comfort. I could walk her to the bus stop in my hoodie without fear.

But this is a privilege that is not shared by us all.

And that’s what this is about. This is the conversation that we should be having as a community and, yes, with our children.

If we are to continue having dialogue, let it be an honest reckoning with our children about the differences of walking through this city, as well as other cities, in a black body versus a white one. Let it be focused on what we do next to heal the rifts carved by generations of oppression.

It’s okay to talk about skin color and its impact on our lived realities. In fact, it’s imperative that we do so. Openly.

We cannot repair brokenness that we do not admit exists. And if we silence uncomfortable conversations, our children will internalize that silence as normal. If we do not acknowledge the inequities we face as a community, our children will internalize those inequities as being the standard.

When my daughter gets home this evening, here are four things we will talk about:

  1. People are fighting in our city and in many other cities across the country. They’re fighting because our culture still does not treat people of different skin colors with equal respect and kindness.
  2. The fighting in Charlotte started because another black man has died after being shot by a police officer. The story about why and how it happened are different depending on who you ask.
  3. There is no simple answer or quick fix. There is no single reason or cause. These problems are complicated and have been growing and changing for longer than either of us has been alive.
  4. Skin color still matters. Even though it shouldn’t.

I will answer every “Why?” and do my best to explain in ways she will understand without censoring the uncomfortable facts.

We will talk about history and culture. We will talk about friendships and empathy. We will talk about the freedoms, as well as the responsibilities, that we are granted by our Constitution. I will ask for her opinions, and I will listen.

Because this will be her history, and these are lessons worth learning.