Why does one need a college education to discuss difficult things?

On Saturday I was hanging around with some family, there was drinking happening so some of the conversation was not as open as I would normally appreciate. A lot of it was yelling when there was disagreement, and involved informing me that children are incapable of discussing and understanding difficult concepts, that those concepts should be left for college classes only. My problem with those conversations is they are not really conversations. It’s me being told that I’m wrong and when I try to defend my position there is yelling and I never get the opportunity. I’m not new to this kind of conversation, when I was 18 I taught Sunday school at my church. I got the pleasure of running a classroom of 30 3-year-olds, on a good Sunday, by myself because my aids never showed up. There was a little boy with autism in the 4-year-old class right next to mine and he would come over and play with the toys in my room. My kids were not allowed to play with the toys because they didn’t belong to the church, they belonged to the preschool. When he would come in I sat down next to him, said “no” and took the toy, returning it to it’s place. I would do this three, four, sometimes five times before he got bored and went back to his classroom. Sometimes it took longer so I would escort him back around the folding wall. One of the occasions where I escorted him back his teacher informed me that I was not allowed to tell him no. Didn’t I know he was autistic? There was no way that he could possibly understand, and because of that it was unfair of me to expect him to listen. I made the mistake of telling the woman, 12 years my senior and a mother, that he was four years old. At four every child can understand the word no and by not starting that early she would be damaging him later. What would happen when he got to puberty, experiencing feelings that he really couldn’t understand? At that point he needs to know the word no. She was really offended, it was probably partially a teenager correcting her, and partially the insinuation that this child would at some point have sexual urges that would be more difficult for him to learn how to control. Saturday I found myself in another one of these conversations.

My husband’s high school cousins are incredibly smart, fascinating, interesting people. Their parents take such an interest in their education and I’m positive that interest is what has caused them to be such amazing people. There is a rise in charter schools in the area I live in now because the public schools are terrible. There are some teachers that are phenomenal, I’ve worked with some at Wayne State, and some that it seems have never been educated themselves. Unfortunately, the charter school one of the cousins attends had great ideals when they started and he began his education there and has since severely declined. There are teachers that can’t speak the English language properly teaching both English classes and speech and debate. The other problem with this area is serious racism and xenophobic word vomit. This comes from all races, all cultures, all nationalities in the area. People talk a lot about discrimination and reverse discrimination, but really what it seems to be is fear and hate. Outside of my mental illness I’ve never experienced that against me, or within me.

That was a huge digression to explain what made me so angry on Saturday. The teacher that can’t teach English is apparently afraid of the black kids that come to the school from Detroit. I completely understand the fear, but my opinion is it isn’t the fact the kids are black, it’s because they are from Detroit and Detroit is a scary place. A lot of the kids that come from that area are rough, they have had little to no hope in their lives, little to no inspiration, role models are almost non-existent, even their politicians are felons. These kids wanted to debate if it was ok to use the word nigger within their own community. There were some kids in the class that were uncomfortable with the topic, but the teacher allowed it and went so far as to tell the kids that were uncomfortable with the topic they would be downgraded for not participating. That is a difficult topic for people to handle, but if done properly it can be a constructive and useful discussion for any age. Obviously the teacher in question is not capable of facilitating this kind of discussion, obviously this would not be constructive and would only make the racist and xenophobic nature of the area worse, but on Saturday I was told that under no circumstances can a high school class handle a discussion like that. That conversation should apparently be reserved for college classes only.

My problem with that opinion is by college a lot of these racist and xenophobic thoughts are not easily reversed. Beyond that, while I loved college, and have chosen to spend the majority of my adult life in some sort of higher education program, it isn’t for everyone. The person that said that to me has nothing more than a technical degree. Why would you want to waste money on a class like that when you are studying a technical field where it would be completely worthless? What about the people that never go to college? Should they be completely left out of ever educating themselves on difficult pieces of our language or history? I didn’t learn about why the Jewish community was attacked by Hitler until a college math class where we were learning about inflation. How is that acceptable? If we had an open discussion about differences in religion, mental capabilities, disease, race, language and how it can be hurtful, at all ages we would be a much more accepting world.

I think I’m going to be a disappointment as a mother to some of my husbands family. My kid will likely never believe in Santa, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, and they will be able to discuss really difficult topics with intelligence and poise. I will likely never talk baby talk, and never hold back answers from my child. I understand the need for things to be age appropriate, but I have no desire to shelter my child from things that might be painful to discuss. My kid will never need to be a certain age or education level to understand why the world can sometimes be really cruel, and that cruelty is wrong.

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