September 27 and October 4
In her famous poem from 1976 “Children Learn What They Live”, Dorothy Law Nolte lays out a prescription for teaching children self-worth and compassion. In the poem, she carefully contrasts the impacts of criticism versus praise and encouragement. “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.” When this poem was released, it could be found on refrigerator doors, nursery room walls and classroom bulletin boards throughout this nation. It marked a shift in our shared consciousness as to the value of our children and our responsibility to provide environments that fostered love and handled their sweet souls with tender care.
Imagine that all of our children grew up in homes and were taught in schools that handled their sweet souls with care. Would we continue to have gapping disparities in access to quality education? Would black and brown children continue to comprise a disproportionate number of school suspensions, expulsions and dropouts? A significant part of our children’s learning occurs outside of the home where they also are shaped by acts of encouragement or criticism. Therefore recent reports that indicate that not all of our children receive equal treatment in our school and judicial systems compel the church and faith community to act. Data from the Department of Education chronicling the 2011 – 2012 school year show that although African American youth comprise only 18% of pre-school enrollment, 42% were subject to suspension at least once that year. That rate is increased to 48% for the same group that were subject to multiple suspensions. This data is not meant to indicate that African American preschoolers are inherently prone to bad behavior or that pre-school teachers are inherently racist. What it does show is that we are all shaped in a paradigm of implicit bias that requires intentional effort to dismantle.