By Georard N. Mitchell, Guest Contributor
As an educator, I find it imperative that we make an extra effort to meet the needs of students who don’t easily meld into the pot that is a public school education in America. Why an extra effort do you ask? Well, it’s because it seems as though our society has made an extra effort to ignore and oppress these students and their families.
Through our many fixtures such as intolerance, poverty, discrimination, racism, sexism, and any other applicable ism’s, our society actively works against the best interests of various groups of people. With that being said, we must actively combat these injustices in any way that we can.
As a black man, I spent a large portion of my life thinking that I had it harder than anyone else. At least that’s what I was told. What I experienced. It took a while before I realized, shamefully, that other than having grown up poor, I have privilege in almost every way possible. I’m a man, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, cognitively able, financial stable, young and healthy.
The blinders began to come off in college, but my privilege was more apparent when I began working as a teacher, specifically a special educator. I think that it becomes tough for humans to have empathy and compassion, when we think that we have it worse than everyone else. But as I took a step back, I found myself in the position of working towards being an ally towards other marginalized groups of people.
A specific “aha moment” was when I took a trip abroad. After a thirteen-hour flight to Turkey I had one question. Why is there so much English? As I continued my trip through the Netherlands and the Czech Republic I wondered, how would I navigate this trip if I didn’t speak English? This was the first time in my life I ever considered my linguistic privilege.
With all that is going on in our current sociopolitical sphere, Latino immigrant children are some of the newest victims of societal intolerance and ignorance. If coming to another country isn’t jarring enough, in addition to the many other circumstances students could be dealing with, imagine that the space that you spend the majority of time in outside of your home is spent as uncomfortably as you’ve been since you got here. Repeating the same frustrations day after day, with your only comfort being the hope of seeing other children you know at school who share your misery. The people around you don’t seem to understand any of what you say, you don’t understand the majority of what they say, and many people don’t seem to care that you have anything to say anyway. I think you get the point.
But let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that we want to help but maybe we don’t know how to assist these children in truly feeling valued. Maybe we just need a concrete example of how to get it done. Well the article, Artful Spaces/Safe Places: A Gallery Provokes Voices that Interrogate Common Narratives of Latino Immigrant Children, gives a glimpse into how we can do this.
The article details a collaboration between a community director at an urban Spanish-speaking church and faculty from literacy education and visual art at IUPUI. In a summer program, students created hanging journals made from clay that helped in expressing children’s otherwise silenced voices. These journals held more meaning than which the children could fully express in English.
Then students were shown that their work was valued, as it was displayed in a gallery for their friends, family and community to observe. Not only does this illustrate the significance of the arts for children, but it shows that if we truly want to understand the experiences of others and make meaningful connections with them, we can.
Georard N. Mitchell is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.