If You Treat Children Like Human Beings

I am back from what I am beginning to recognize as my annual December break from reading and writing.  The break is used for celebrating family, the spirit of giving, and visualizing peace on earth.  Also, a whole lot of running around with a list in one hand, bags in the other.  Despite what I hope for the holidays, I am programed to fall into the Christmas rut I have dug for myself, one year at a time.

DSCN0909Separating myself from reading and writing opens opportunities for listening and watching.  I watched A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart while baking Butter Currant Tarts, slicing baguettes of parmesan and garlic, and simmering spiced pecans.  My mouth already waters in anticipation of next year!

Frequently I will watch  TED Talks through Netflix from my smartphone while walking on the treadmill.

TED (conference)

TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition, I recently found TED Talks radio podcasts on Stitcher, to listen to while walking the dog.  One particular story caught my attention, and I pulled it up on YouTube this morning to watch the full presentation.  It is a talk by Bill Strickland, and to tell you why it caught my attention, I need to flashback a few years.

Travel back with me to the year 2006.  My youngest, a daughter, was in middle school.  This is an average school with average teachers in an average neighborhood with average parents and kids.  It’s the one that operates down the block on any average day.  My kids are pretty average kids by anyone else’s standards.  (By mine, they are aMAZing.  Of course!)

I’d had a couple prior grievances about which I felt strongly enough to bring to the head of the school.  After all, by 2006, my fourth was attending.  We’d dealt with teachers, coaches, volunteers, programs, special groups, over-achievers, and detention.  We’d gone to parent nights both willingly and grudgingly.  After nine years at one middle school, having a couple of grievances over teachers is expected.

Which brings us to the night I was at the school for an extra-curricular event.  Before we left into the cold, I thought I should hit up the girls’ restroom one last time.  I had no sooner locked the stall door and pulled down my bloomers, as a man’s voice echoed in.

“Come on, how long are you gonna be?  I gotta get in there!”

I responded back apologetically, “Oh!  I’m sorry!  Just a minute . . . ”  And the voice came back softer, “Oh, I’m sorry. No hurry.”  I emerged after barely stopping to wash my hands.  The janitor stood leaning against a mop in a yellow bucket on wheels.  He apologized again, saying he hadn’t realized who was in there.

Why did that matter?  Should our children expect to be treated with less dignity than their parents?  I could have been the school track star, the valedictorian, the class clown, or as it turns out . . . a parent.  I was a faceless parasite.  The principal heard from me again.  I don’t remember how she responded, but I do remember counting the days until my youngest graduated from that school.

Bill Strickland speaks in Charlotte

Bill Strickland speaks in Charlotte (Photo credit: chascow)

Materializing once again into present-day 2013, I watched this TED Talk by Bill Strickland.  Bill has made it his life’s mission to treat children in not-so-average neighborhoods with the respect and admiration they deserve.  So much of what he said is quotable, but something stood out and brought this incident in the girls’ restroom to the forefront of my memory.

He said, “I figured that if you treat children like human beings, it increases the likelihood they’re going to behave that way.”

And this is how all children — affluent, disadvantaged, challenged or gifted, should be treated.  Because they really are human beings capable of amazing things, not only in their parents’ eyes, but in the eyes of the world.  I am so saddened when I think back to that gruff voice in the restroom.  I was a strong, confident woman in the peak of my adulthood.  How would a pre-teen girl feel with her pants around her ankles and nothing between her and that man but a flimsy metal stall?  What is the likelihood she felt like a human being at that point?  What is the likelihood that there are many of her across the world?

Because I think this is a very powerful talk, I have included the video below.  I would love for you to find the quotes that are meaningful to you.  Someone once treated Bill Strickland like a human being in the middle of chaos.  Listening to his words, you cannot mistake the good he has done for nothing but the chance to pay it forward.  The video will take about a half hour of your time, so if you can’t watch it now, be sure to bookmark it for later.

Peace . . .

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About Jean

Trying to make sense of it all and . . . for the most part . . . doing it. View all posts by Jean

15 responses to “If You Treat Children Like Human Beings

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