As an educator and a new parent of a son, I intend to do my best to raise him into a caring, responsible individual. In this endeavor, my wife and I are aware of the current political climate, especially the growth of the #MeToo movement, and what that means for treating women, and everyone else, for that matter, with respect, equality, and thoughtfulness.
As I see it, my role can help to make a difference on that score.
Teachers must call out leaders who show indifference or worse toward others. This isn’t a practice in political brainwashing, but rather an effort to help young people think and behave kindly and humanely toward each other. With this in mind, I can’t help but think of recent headlines.
President Donald Trump claims he respects women, but at a recent rally mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who alleged that now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.
At the very least, Ford has the right to be respected. Trump seems to think otherwise, as he made clear at a “Make America Great Rally” in Mississippi, before Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate.
“‘How did you get home?'” Trump said, mocking Ford’s recollection of the incident, as the crowd laughed and cheered. “‘I don’t remember.’ ‘How’d you get there?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘Where is the place?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘How many years ago was it?’ ‘I don’t know.'”
As a human being and as a teacher, I was truly shaken by Trump’s words and the responses they elicited from so many. I would tremble if my students or son responded in a similar fashion, and I write this certain that some (or many) readers will find this suitable cause to accuse me and others in my field of hoping to indoctrinate impressionable young minds. I plead guilty only to actively promoting and modeling kindness and respect, including a curiosity to understand new and different views of the world around us. Other than this, I would never tell my students what or how to think, and I value the uniqueness of each of them.
Of course, politicians aren’t the only ones lacking in common decency. I also want to help young people become aware of when and how the media treats men and women unfairly, and what to do about it.
I’m no tennis pro (in fact, my forehand is almost as embarrassing as my serve), but I enjoy watching the sport. I have nothing kind to say, however, about how the media covered the recent U.S. Open women’s final, especially Serena Williams’s so-called “meltdown” while arguing with referee Brian Earley over repeated code violations. Other media outlets used different unkind words –including “outburst,” “furious rant,” and plenty more — for Williams’ behavior, for which she was fined $17,000.
I’m not nearly as concerned about whether Williams was justly or unjustly penalized as I am about how, responding to her attempt to defend herself, the media portrayed her as hysterical. As an educator, I shared with students my disappointment with the media, especially the Australian Herald Sun, which published a horribly racist cartoon of the tennis star.
Slamming Williams doesn’t simply stink of racism; it’s also misogynistic, telling females to remain silent in times when they feel the target of injustice — that their feelings and sense of truth don’t matter, and that nobody wants to hear from them.
I’m in good company. In a powerful opinion piece for The Washington Post, former tennis champion Billie Jean King, now a champion for equality, said “I understand what motivated Williams to do what she did. And I hope every single girl and woman watching yesterday’s match realizes they should always stand up for themselves and for what they believe is right. Nothing will ever change if they don’t.”
As a teacher, and as a father, it’s my job to help girls realize the wisdom in King’s words, and to help my son grow into a staunch supporter of female empowerment.
Accordingly, I teach students how to write their own opinion pieces, which they can share online or with their local newspapers. My students have powerful voices, and it’s my job to help them realize that they can use them to make a difference.
All of this comes back to the current toxic discourse polluting our interactions in every imaginable way. It’s not just that we don’t want to listen to each other. That would be an improvement. Today, when others hold different views, to many of us that equates with offense or anti-Americanism. Our elected representatives, who should strive to embody all things decent, seem to prefer partisan squabbling, name-calling, and behavior so poor that calling it “juvenile” would be overly generous—giving too little credit to children, who know better than many adults in Washington. (For an example, see former Attorney General Eric Holder’s less noble reworking of Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” mantra, as well as the Republicans’ response, which Holder called “fake outrage.”)
No doubt millions felt uneasy, even threatened, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that featured testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford. I want my son to know that opening one’s ears is never as dangerous as closing them. I can only hope that he gets to come of age in a nation where people do more than tolerate hearing, but actively listen to each other with the respect and kindness we all owe one another. I remain hopeful that such a day will come, if not in my lifetime, then in my son’s.