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I was stopped at a light the other day and saw a lawn sign which read: Strangers? Not in My Schools.
On the One Hand
I thought, wow, this is great. All students are made to feel welcome in a safe environment, i.e., school. That’s the way it should be. But could it be true? Kids naturally gravitate toward, seek, and feel comfortable with kids with similar interests.
I’m no psychologist but I think kids of most ages tend to be cliquish. They want, they need to feel at ease with those around them, peers and adults alike. So they eat lunch together with the same friends every day, play in the band or on the soccer team, sit together on the bus, just talk.
But school for most kids is not that idyll. They fear rejection and/or failure. Some are bullied. Others don’t “fit in” according to someone else’s standards. We need to embrace these kids so that they do not consider themselves strangers in school. Help them feel “welcome.”
I know this is not a direct comparison but I’m going to give it a go. In only two months after mustering out of the Army I was back in college. Gals and guys I had graduated high school with were now somewhere trying to apply their degree to the working world. I usually found myself the oldest student in class. My taste in music differed from my classmates’ as did my outlook on life itself. I was a veteran of a war that was still going on and, to me, they discussed Vietnam in the abstract, if they talked about the war at all. I had one sociology professor who talked in class about Vietnam but he was about it.
Not talking about Vietnam became my safe zone. It was my secret, that I had actually taken part in history–for good or for ill–I was no longer an intellectual interloper. I wrote an essay on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, a short novel about the Civil War. The professor’s comment was, I will never forget it, “Perhaps you are too young to understand war.” I did not respond, but maybe I should have said something like, “Perhaps I was too young to go to war.” There was no one to talk to. My safe zone comforted me somewhat; but when I look back, maybe I should have been more aggressive in trying to find someone, anyone to talk with about the war. Too young?
On the Other Hand
I thought, wow, this is insensitive, and racist, and wrong. Does “stranger” on the sign mean any child whose family has not lived in town for a minimum five years? I wonder how “strange” and “not strange” are defined by the homeowner who posted the sign. If we substitute “others” for “strangers,” the premise of the sign’s vitriol melts away. If we eliminate “my,” we are left with “Others? Not in schools.” Now that would be strange. After all, what the heck is an “other”?
I am an other. I am a brother with two brothers who shares a mother with yet another sibling. Four siblings attended the same grammar school, but the three brothers attended a school other than our sister, so, you see, she went to another school. Silly, I know. That’s the point.
Racism exists, so does ignorance. If we could dispel the latter, we would repel the former.
Here’s an attempt to continue my personal military experience as analogous to society in general. What matters for the military to function is proper regard for rank, not having anything to do with race. An officer of superior rank is called sir or ma’am. It is as simple as that. On the battlefield all blood is red and all American limbs that litter the “hallowed ground,” as Abraham Lincoln described Gettysburg, are clothed in the same torn government issued pant legs and shirt sleeves. Neither race, religion, ethnicity, nor color matter a whit.
So the military, as strange as it sounds because of its rigid hierarchical structure, is a great equalizer for its members, who are also American citizens. There are no strangers in a soldier’s squad, platoon, or company.
There is a great Irish saying on this subject: A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.