Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Power of the Picture Book: Kurt Stroh

It’s Okay to Be Different...Really, It Is!

I have spent my entire adult life advocating for what is best for children.  I’ve worked to ensure that all children are safe, that all children are valued and that all children are respected.  While my career focuses on the lives of children, the above mentioned are also things that I value for all adults. In school, we talk about the things for which we must always be respectful, to be responsible, to be accepting and to be compassionate.  We talk about how we are all different, unique, and special, and we usually find that we are more similar than different.  We talk about our rights at school, and how they should never cause anyone else to feel disrespected, hurt or unaccepted.

On Wednesday, November 9,  as kids entered my library, I was overhearing very hurtful, disrespectful conversations.  Some students were crying--some mocking. Now, I completely understand that kids this age are often only repeating what they hear at home and in the media, but nonetheless, I was saddened. I was frightened.  

I knew I had to change my plans.  I knew we needed to come together and re-establish our school understandings and beliefs.  I knew we had to make sure that everyone felt that they were important, that they were valued, that they mattered.

I pulled Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different off the shelf and decided that we would read it together. Every grade. Every class. We did, and we talked...a lot.  Students smiled as they saw themselves in the book:  glasses, wheelchairs, short, tall, moms, dads, adopted. I heard comments like:  “That’s just like me!” (and that’s okay!), “I have two moms!” (and that’s okay!), “I’m a different color than my family! (and that’s okay!)  Students rallied around each other.  When we read “It’s okay to have wheels”, one student turned and high-fived our student in a wheelchair. She beamed!  Students relaxed, students smiled, students felt accepted.  They remembered that it’s not okay to be unkind, that it’s not okay to be disrespectful, that it’s not okay to be hurtful--IT’S NOT OKAY.

While I felt a bit better,  I was still sad. I wished that I could have the opportunity to sit with adults and have the same conversations.  I wished that I could bring a group of adults together and have them high-five each other for looking different, for having different family structures, for having different beliefs.  I wished I could hear THEM say, “It’s okay that you’re a different color," “It’s okay that you’re a different religion," “It’s okay to love who you love."  I wished that we could talk about the right to believe what you want to believe and say what you want to say...unless it is hurtful, disrespectful or unkind to someone else.

I’m frightened.  People now feel that they have an open invitation to show unkindness, disrespect, and hatred. Trust me, our kids are watching this. They are seeing everything.  This is not what we want our next generation to witness. This is not how we want them to act.  This is not how we want them to treat each other. This is NOT what we want them to become!

So, I would like to extend a different invitation, a better invitation:

I invite you to value all people.
I invite you to respect all people.  
I invite you to love all people!

Please accept my invitation...It’s okay.  Really, it is!

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