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Kids First. Parent Choice.

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I've always loved the pithy witticisms of Mark Twain. One of my favorite quotes goes, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." It gives a good description of the mindset of many of our middle school kids.
I love listening in on conversations between our students here at school - mostly I get to eavesdrop on them during lunches and recess. They love to debate with one another. Sometimes it is something about their immediate classroom and school context, sometimes the merits of something viewed on TikTok, and sometimes it is about current events in the world. What is refreshingly different with the way our young adolescents debate and argue is that they have an ability to hold strong opinions and ideas without it so easily tipping over into personal attacks and spiraling hostilities. I suspect it is because they are aware that they are tentatively holding on to their own position while they grapple to grasp the other's. Maybe it is just they don't feel the same sense of 'win at all costs' that adults tend to when taking a stance.  Ironically, as we mature into adulthood we lose some of this pliability in our thinking. We can become more rigid.

As people, we seem to be hardwired to pursue and reconnect to what is good, noble, and beautiful. Or, in the lyrics of Joni Mitchell, humans are compelled to try to "get ourselves back to the garden." And quite appropriately, we become quite resentful when we see things in the world that we perceive as incongruent with our vision for how we get there. Deep down we all want the same thing - to create and live in a world that is good and beautiful and whole. 
I do believe that underneath all of the anger, yelling, and vitriol that permeates our world right now are actually profoundly shared values? Common ground that gets so plowed up with scorched-earth rhetoric we forget to notice we are tending the same garden. We have very different ideas of how best to bring this about, and it should result in robust debate, but we should not lose sight of the shared vision that undergirds it. Every parent I talk to believes deeply in doing right by their kids. We will disagree on how best to raise them and prepare them for life, but that does not diminish the truth that parents love their kids more than life itself. We all want clean water and fresh air - how is it that this basic desire gets so lost and convoluted in our political discourse and posturing? 

We don't have to agree on politicians, policies, or positions. In fact, we shouldn't and we won't. But, we can teach our children to listen deeply to the other, to invite him or her to share more about the world they see, and then to notice and name the shared value. Discussion, debate, and discourse can take a decidedly more positive and productive trajectory. It's not about abandoning one's beliefs and acquiescing, it is about honoring the shared humanity between us that ultimately wants the same things. Becoming a sturdy human being is being able to listen to what really matters to the other person down below the surface - what they deeply care about - and then finding ways to bridge the gap between you.

Kevin O'Bryant
Assistant Principal Middle School