“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
(Nelson Mandela May 8, 1995)
There has been a lot in the news about children, predominately, the current administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when families attempt to request asylum in the United States. With thousands of people marching, rallying, and protesting the current policy, and with the world watching our behavior, I wonder how we determine which children matter?
The children with special needs matter. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
In the field of education, we spend a great deal of time ensuring that this law is followed for our special needs students. We conduct IEP (Individualized Educational Program) meetings to secure accommodations for our students’ physical, emotional, and cognitive needs. We have a team of people including a resource specialist teacher, classroom teachers, an administrator, the child’s parents (and at times their legal representatives or advocates), a school psychologist, and sometimes a speech therapist, occupational therapist, and/or an adaptive physical education teacher. All team members work together to assure the child’s success.
The children in early education matter. Beginning in the 1960’s, Head Start, legislation passed and was improved to insure that young children (0-5) have access to quality early care and education. Programs vary by state, but in California, Assembly Bill 273 assures that low-income families have access to quality, subsidized childcare. In early education classrooms and programs, there are strict ratios of adults to children, helping to ensure that children receive the attention they need and deserve. Special intervention services are offered at Regional Services Centers for children that show delayed development through the Early Start program. All licensed childcare centers are monitored by the State’s Child Care Licensing Program to ensure the health and safety of the children served.
The children who are gifted and talented matter. In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program assesses and identifies children who demonstrate excellence in one or more of the following categories: Intellectual Ability, High Achievement Ability, Specific Academic Ability, Creative Ability, Leadership Ability, Visual Arts Ability, and Performing Arts Ability. Once identified, through an assessment, or portfolio review and interview, the GATE students are eligible for Magnet Schools, Schools of Advanced Studies, Honors and Advanced Placement classes, or a Saturday program at the Conservatory of Fine Arts. Teachers observe student progress and data in order to recommend students for these programs. Parents are often motivated to seek assessments for their children in elementary school to open up these opportunities.
The children who need or desire specific learning opportunities matter. This is evidenced by the variety of educational opportunities now available. Some children are home-schooled, some attend private Prep Schools, and others attend schools with a specific educational philosophy such as Waldorf or Montessori. Children who work in the performing arts might be educated by a studio teacher or attend classes on a Community College campus in order to fulfill graduation requirements.
The children arriving at our borders seeking refuge from violence matter.
The children arriving at our borders seeking refuge from violence matter. If they arrive as unaccompanied minors, they matter. If they arrive in the custody of their parents, they matter. Imagine the horrific journey they have made and the sacrifice of leaving their other family members, the country they know and most likely love, in order to seek safety. Imagine all that we do to ensure our children have what they need to thrive and succeed and how we are willing to fight for the rights of our own children. Imagine the children arriving and then being taken away from the safety and advocacy of their own parents, to be locked in cages.
Children matter. They are our future and the future of our country is dependent on the manner in which we treat all people, each other, children, and families. How will we be viewed by the world? Will we be viewed as a compassionate, caring and inclusive society or a heartless, selfish society? For in reality, and history shows this to be true, the tides could turn. Special needs children could be rejected; GATE children could be confronted with indifference; Early Education could be rescinded; and children requiring or wanting a different way to achieve their education could be ignored.
I have spent my entire career—39 years in the classroom—educating and helping children, but my career began before that as a camp counselor and a classroom aide. I spend my days with children in my classroom, with students whom I tutor and I have raised three daughters. I spent years watching my daughters and their friends grow up and now have a granddaughter. I have seen many children from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, physical and cognitive abilities.
In my mind and heart I feel like all of these children matter, all are important and we have an obligation to support all children and families.