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Inclusion Column

To Better Beginnings: A Call for Civility

by Mercedes Ugarte 
7th Grade Language Arts/ Digital Photography/ Design Thinking

As the world begins to turn a new chapter with a feeling of hope and unity after the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel as anti-covid vaccines show promise of us returning to some normalcy in the near future, we may ask ourselves, now what?  We have seen and experienced the polarizing effects of politics in our lives and how damaging it has been for the world. Furthermore, the pandemic has exposed the challenges of living in today’s interconnected and globalized world.  It is a matter of great urgency that we as educators model a culture of civility and give our students opportunities to cooperate with one another in a spirit of mutual acceptance, respect and compassion.  To remain indifferent, or wave the flag of ignorance to the challenges we face and the experiences so many people in the world live is indefensible. 

How are we teaching and modeling to our students a culture of civility after so many of our students have been exposed to language that has further divided and even worse, incited fear and violence? Are we creating opportunities for our students to tell their stories, to hear others' stories so that we observe our commonalities and differences with compassion and without judgement?  Until we better understand, we need to create psychologically safe spaces to ask questions, share feelings, and listen more deeply to perspectives from situations that we haven’t experienced.  

English Language Arts educators from middle school and high school have been working towards encouraging students to question their own assumptions and perceptions through the integration of literary works written by authors from diverse and sometimes contrasting backgrounds and cultures.  In addition, I have witnessed my first grade son curious about stories of the experiences of African Americans, thanks to his incredible teacher.  I find these stories and experiences to be the impetus to much deeper conversations at home to talk about race and equality.  These are the opportunities that will begin to create our culture of civility.  Students will deepen their understanding of civility through reading stories and poetry, through learning and interacting with others, reflecting on times when they acted with civility or perhaps not.
Over time, older students will learn to develop internal metacognitive strategies when confronted with difficult situations.  Students will demonstrate and urge others to enrich their environment with care, concern and tenderness. Civility becomes an internal compass to guide actions, decisions and thoughts.  Times are changing, and let's continue to find opportunities with our students to work towards finding our commonalities, and to model and teach our students to not just demand hope from others, but to demand it from ourselves as well. 

Let us remember the words of Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, and youngest inauguration poet in U.S. history, at twenty-two years old: 

Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it.