Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's OK to be Different

The tide is changing.  I just read a remarkably refreshing story written by a first-grade school teacher.  She tells a story of how she deals with gender-variance issues in her classroom.  In the first-grade!

She was presented with an issue that needed to be addressed in order to a.) bring comfort to a student who was struggling with gender-based issues.  That's right, in the first-grade!  And, b.) create an environment where her students wouldn't follow the path of bullying because of perceived differences.  It's a brilliant story.  I don't want to say anything more about it.  I've provided a link to it.  Read it for yourself.

Teaching that it is ok to be different when it comes to gender-variation to first-grade students will certainly bring the ire "certain people".  But, it's those "certain people" who helps create the environment that tells kids that it's ok to show intolerance and even hatred to people who are "different".  Especially when it comes to sexuality.  I can just hear it now:  "they're trying to recruit our children!"  The first time I heard that nonsense, many years ago, I laughed until I nearly peed on myself!  That's insanity in its purest form.

Children that young may not be ready to identify themselves as gay, straight, or lesbian.  Nor should they be expected to.  However, children that young DO know that there's "something different" about them.  To a person, every one of my LGBT friends knew at a very young age that they were "different".  I did.  And, I acted on it for the very first time when I was in the first grade.  So, if they are aware enough to know that they have feelings that are different than the perceived norm, shouldn't it make sense to teach them in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.  Doesn't it make sense to foster a sense of self-confidence in the while they're still very young as opposed to teaching them that they're deviant or that they need help?  

I think the choice is clear:  1.) we can continue teaching that people who are "different" are to be treated as such.  And, in the process, we're teaching the "different" children that they are inferior or defective.  That they don't fit.  That they need to be "fixed".  And, in that same process, we're also teaching the kids who are NOT different, the "normal" kids, that it's alright to treat the "different" kids harshly.  After all, they deserve it.  They're freaks.  Make no mistake:  this battle has been fought many times throughout history.  Slaves were "different".  Jews were "different".  Blacks were "different".  Women were "different".  And, throughout history, members from each of those groups were harassed, beaten, and even killed.  Or, they killed themselves.

The second option makes much more sense.  We can follow Melissa Bollow Tempel's example by teaching them at a very early age that it's ok to be different, that you really DON'T have to fit into "the box".  Following her lead fosters self-confidence.  It builds self-confidence.  It takes away the potential future bully's most consistent tool:  the perception that their targeted victim is "different" from them.

Teaching acceptance on all levels to a first-grader is simply brilliant.  It certainly worked in Melissa Bollow Tempel's  first-grade class...  She's making a difference.  If we had more people like Melissa in this world, we'd be seeing much less incidences of bullying which means far fewer incidences of teen suicide.  And, that's our goal.