As an educator, I want to move beyond "teaching tolerance." I don't want to teach children to tolerate each other, to see their difference as something to simply be allowed. I want to teach acceptance. I want to teach justice. I want to teach equity. Life won't always be fair, but we should strive to ensure that it is just. In an effort to bring these ideas to an applicable level in my middle schoolers' lives, I ask students to write their own "I Have a Dream" speeches, to denounce bullying and honor the work and writing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I've shared excerpts of these speeches in previous blog posts, but as I sat at Starbucks this morning grading this group of speeches, I came across one that I could not help but share in its entirety. This student's speech spoke straight to my heart, and it I hope it will speak to yours, too.
The Bottom Line
Bullying stands as a great obstacle in the face of today's society. On a daily basis, there are about 2.1 million bullies bullying over 2.7 million victims in American schools alone. Bullying has never been such an urgent matter as it is in this generation. But I believe that the great fires of hatred and discrimination may be put out by the sweetest waters of kindness. But I believe that the great shadow of bullying that looms over its victims can and will go away by the brightest lights of friendship. But I believe that if we stand together as one against this great tyrant we face today, we will overcome it.
Students who are victims of this great terror, stand together! We will not tolerate the pain that these bully terrorists have put on the children of our schools, our playgrounds, and our very homes. I want a world free of the fear of going to school to learn and receive a free education because of the bullies that await them. I want a world free of turning on the TV and seeing another suicide story about a kid who was a victim of bullying. I want a world free of the heavy chains of dealing with a bully weighing down upon kids' shoulders. I want a world free from bullying.
Dr. King had a dream years ago not much different from the one I present before you today. Just as African Americans were bearing the weight of racism, students bear the weight of bullying. Just as King once said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," I have a dream that no matter what color, size, shape, form, or fashion you are, you will not be judged. This pertains to all people, to those who are red, yellow, black, and white; no matter your race, you will not be judged.
Those of us who are not victims, we must not forget those who are. We must not forget the pain, the guilt, the suffering they must be going through! Victims, you must not forget that as long as this great menace called bullying torments and rips at your soul, we will stand with you and try to put out this great fire that scorches you today. Bullies! You must not forget that others have feelings, too. And although you may have been a victim yourself, that gives you no right, NO RIGHT to put others in the line of fire. "15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied as school. It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students." That is 160,000 children that could be learning and taking advantage of their right to a free education but aren't because of bullying.
The bottom line is that bullying is wrong. It can cause so much pain that kids die every day by their own hand. Hey, and newsflash! Bullying is illegal! And yet, "90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying." I'll say it once and I'll say it again, stopping bullying has never been such an urgent matter. We must put an end to it.
I hope that in your interactions with others this week, you will think about the way your actions and words reflect your feelings and thoughts. Dr. King said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." We can only continue to make our world better if we constantly and deliberately strive to put light and love into the world around us. We've got a ways to go, but we know where we're headed. Let's be sure we walk in the light.