Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Children Learn What They Live. (We forget that simple poem at our peril.)

Guest blogger Wendy reminds us that no matter how dismissive we might be of political talk, our children are indeed listening, and these words matter.

I know that somewhere in our country, many people support Donald Trump.  I don't know any of these people.  But I know they exist.  I don't understand them.  The people I know are pretty dismissive of Donald Trump.  Some view him as entertainment, a worthy sequel to the reality TV stars of recent GOP presidential runs, from Sarah Palin in 2008 to Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann in 2012.  We have come to expect a good comedy act and the 2016 Republican campaign  has not disappointed.  Some view Trump as a caricature of all that is venomous in our society.  And some welcome his presence, rooting for a third-party spoiler candidacy to lock in a Democratic win.

It's hard to listen to Donald Trump and not feel offended.  In an example of supreme understatement, a New York Times headline blasted, "Fear that Debate Could Hurt GOP in Women's Eyes."  Duh.  While every man in the Republican line up is a disgrace to women's equality, Trump leads the pack, completely at ease applying terms like "fat pig" and "disgusting animal" to Rosie O'Donnell.  He followed it the next day with his astonishing comments about Megyn Kelly.   As a woman, though, while I find Trump offensive, I don't find myself feeling as outraged by his comments as I did, for example, by Larry Summers when he commented on innate differences between men and women vis a vis working in the sciences (boy oh boy do we have a long way to go here). Perhaps you have to have a modicum of respect for the speaker to feel outrage.  In any event, Trump doesn't really get to me, he's more akin to a flea than a tapeworm in my life.

But children are listening. And they learn what they live.

Last spring I saw that Neighbor's Link, headquartered in a nearby town, was seeking summer tutors.  Neighbor's Link mission is "to strengthen the whole community by actively enhancing the healthy integration of immigrants."  I support that mission, I like kids, and I believe that many of the world's ills can be remedied through education. A trifecta.  So I decided I could spare a few summer hours to tutor a middle school student and off I went.

Bear with me here, I'll get back to our buddy Trump.

B. is twelve years old. Twelve. My first hour with her was a "getting to know you" meeting.   I learned that B. wants to become a marine biologist, that she is fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian with Portuguese next up. I learned that her mother doesn't speak English well but she drives B. back and forth to Neighbor's Link to work with me in the hope of improving her daughter's prospects for success at school.  On high alert, B. was also quick to tell me that her mother has a green card.

After we seemed comfortable with each other, B. and I agreed to work on some math problems. We turned first to ratios.  I started explaining the concept..  This really wasn't necessary because she was pretty on top of ratios.  Before I could finish asking a question, she'd blurt out the answer.  But then, almost immediately, she'd say, "Oh no, that's not right."  And I'd tell her that it was indeed right.  This happened repeatedly with progressively difficult problems until I concluded that B. had, not a paucity of math skills, but a paucity of confidence.  I told her so and she smiled.  And I knew that my summer tutoring job mostly would be about building that well merited confidence.

I wanted to get a sense of B.’s reading level, so I asked her to read aloud.  She read a few sentences and then she stopped cold, narrowed her eyes, and said, I kid you not, "Do you know there's a very bad man who wants to be president?"  I thought to myself, "Which one?" but out loud, I asked if she knew his name.  She did not, but volunteered that he's a businessman and he has lots and lots of money and is using it to run for president.  So I asked if she meant Donald Trump.  She did. 

And then she said, "He hates immigrants.  He thinks we're all bad.  He wants to send us away."

Well.  Pretty hard to build self confidence in a child who's up against that. 

I laugh at Trump.  I hope the backlash of his comments will generate contributions to Planned Parenthood and higher turnout of women at the polls.  I dismiss him for the overinflated balloon that he is.

But what I missed, until I met twelve year old B., is that children are listening.  And it matters.  Because these children don't yet have the savvy to understand that they are far more worthy of respect than a man so rich he is trying to buy a presidency.  What masquerades as discourse in this country has sunk deep in the muck, and the children who are listening are learning what they live.




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