White, middle class, American, Christian, immigrant. Many people would not think I would classify myself as the final word on that list, immigrant. But I do. It is something I have been for nearly four years.
6:00 am local time, 3:00 am eastern time on November 9th, 2016. The computer, perched on the bedside table from the night before, live streaming the election results. The glare of the screen and the murmurs of the reporters wake me up as a roll over in bed. Trump Wins. That’s all I see. In a disarray, half awake, I rub my eyes to read the headline again. Trump Wins. I grab the computer off the table, scrambling to check other sources to see if the news is correct. It is. Sadness, frustration, disbelief, shock, every possible emotion, and question comes racing to the forefront of my mind. I try to go back to sleep, but I can’t.
What am I going to say? How am I going to explain this to my students? Will they still like me? Will they understand? Do I have to go to work today? As I try to settle my mind and think rationally, I am hit like a semi truck with embarrassment and shame, as the emotions jolt through every ounce of my being.
It’s just me. Only me. I have no fellow American coworkers, I have no American friends next door, I have no American students. The embarrassment and shame, quickly turn into a weight of responsibility. I am the first and probably only American teacher they will ever have. For some, the only American they have ever met. How am I going to respond? How am I going to represent my country? What can my students learn from this? What can I learn from this? What is the lesson I want to teach them? So many questions and thoughts ricochet through my brain as I try to pull myself together and prepare for the day ahead.
Tolerance, love, compassion, empathy, open-mindedness, perseverance, patience. This is what I want to teach. Something that for so many of us, we know is right and is easy to talk about or scribble down on a piece of paper, but at times so difficult to display. But if we all believe in this, then where did we go so wrong? Why is it all I hear about is intolerance, bigotry, lies, and hate? What is the root of the cause? How can we stop this madness that is not just happening in the US, but across the world?
There are many views and possible starting points, but for me, it starts with education. The obvious answer is to teach our kids to be loving, compassionate, patient, tolerant members of society. This is a must, but I believe there is a second level. A deeper level. What is it that we are teaching our students and kids about other cultures? Have they ever truly experienced, traveled to, or lived in another country or culture? What do our history books teach? Do we embrace or shun those who are different? Our we ourselves engaging with people that look nothing like us, have a completely different background, are across the aisle, and whose beliefs and religious views we don’t share? When was the last time we sat down and had an open and honest conversation with a person from a different culture and country? For some, possibly just yesterday, but for others, it could be something they have never done before? Why is that?
Because it is easy to go through our day to day routine, completing the tasks at hand. It is easy to listen to the thoughts and opinions of those around us and in the media. At times not questioning if it is true or not, or taking the time to think about our own ideas and beliefs. At first, we might think an idea or person is ludicrous or preposterous, but our mind slowly adjusts as we our bombarded with information and opinions. “Huh maybe they are right” we start to tell ourselves and those around us as our views become narrower and narrower and narrower. How can our views be changed, challenged, or checked? Through experiences. But I think many of us, myself included, don’t look for new experiences. We don’t look for new experiences and opportunities because it is hard, it takes work, and at times, it is uncomfortable. Because we don’t look for experiences, we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves. Because we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves, we aren’t curious or interested in the lives of those different than us.
So what did I tell my students yesterday in class? I told them to stay curious. To take advantage of new opportunities and experiences, as risky and uncomfortable as they may seem. I told them to engage and converse with people they have nothing in common with, because after the conversation, you will be surprised how much you really do have in common. I told them to travel. Because, for me, that is the best way to challenge your thinking and become more tolerant, patient, and loving. I told them to never take their education for granted. Finally, I told them to never give up no matter how hard or difficult the road ahead may look. What is it that our students, kids, and the next generation will learn from us? Because much like a house, our foundations are sturdy, strong, and difficult to move. What are the foundations of the next generation going to be?