I spent most of my teaching career in public schools educating minority students. Those children taught me as much as I taught them. They introduced me to cultures and life experiences that I had never known in my mostly isolated childhood. I had grown up in the segregated south and generally had only witnessed people from other races or ethnicities from afar. From that distance I saw the unfairness of how black citizens and those from Mexico and South America were being treated in my city and the country at large. I new that there were designated areas where they lived away from the enclaves that housed me and my white family and friends. As a teen and young adult I advocated for a more equal and just nation for them and then I found myself in a position to love and cherish the historically underserved members of my community when I became a teacher.
I have been profoundly moved by my experience with the minority children of my city. They and their parents educated me. I learned about their determination to rise up even as they were often being persecuted. I saw how incredibly difficult it was for many of them to overcome the prejudices and propaganda that had historically lied about who they were. They were good, hard working people, not the lazy violent souls that some portrayed them to be. From them came stories of profound inspiration as well as deeply disturbing examples of grievous abuse by a society that often heralded itself as the greatest country on earth. I listened to them and began to realize that I was not somehow some kind of beneficent helper for them, but rather a means for them to gain enough knowledge to continue to gain the kind of freedoms that I already had.
I have marveled at the successes of those same students. I have proudly watched them achieve incredible goals, but I have also learned of heartbreaking incidents when not even their college degrees were enough to convince a future employer that they were polished enough to land a job. Instead it was suggested that they were still “too ghetto” for the professional world. The fact that they had grown up in poverty in a rough part of town and had still managed to earn college degrees by dent of determination did not seem to matter. The prejudices against them were more subtle than those hurled at their elders, but they still existed nonetheless.
I mention all of these things because the vast majority of people my age and those with whom I went to school scratch their heads at my political and religious beliefs. They are of a more conservative bent and point out the violence and crime that seems so rampant these days as evidence that there are people among us who need to somehow be taught to be better. They lament what they see as a deterioration of the niceties and faiths of the past. They want to reel in the country’s leaning toward what they see as chaos and they genuinely believe that we have lost our way and that we are not as safe as we once were. They are fearful that our country is on the brink of becoming an ungodly anarchy.
I hear them as much as I hear my former students but I disagree with their rationale and ideas for fixing the difficulties of our nation. Going back to a time where freedoms were mostly limited to the WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) is not the answer. In fact it is a rotten idea that will only compound the many problems that we face. We must protect the rights of every citizen and everyone must feel free to express their opinions. We cannot allow our individual religious beliefs to seep into our public institutions as a mechanism of controlling thoughts. I am a Catholic who is adamant that my beliefs should be my own, not a way of forcing others to comply with me. Prayers are lovely. I say them all day long, but they do not belong in public schools. Rules of freedom and privacy dictate that each person be allowed to think in his/her own way. Freedom should be about choices, not dictatorial laws and court rulings that favor one belief system over another.
I believe that our founders understood the slippery slope of mixing religious fervor with the laws of the state. Our decisions about what should be a matter of choice and what should be curbed have to be based on rational information rather than emotional feelings. We also must surely understand that the men of 1776 while quite learned could not have adequately imagined how changed the world would become. Nonetheless they created a Constitution designed to be fluid enough to adapt to the times, not become a rigid and outdated document. The process of legislation and adjudication was meant to create laws and precedents that would evolve over time. Even at the time of the birth of our nation there were men who understood that slaves should be freed and that all men and women deserve the right to vote. They assumed that such changes would naturally occur. They did not mention every single eventuality that might need to change but they created a system that would make our freedoms living and breathing, not static and unmoving. To insist that something cannot be Constitutional because it was not mentioned in the original documents or throughout history is absurd because so much has changed through science and research and education that few of the founders would recognize the incredible advances that should have made our country more equitable, not less so.
I pray daily, but like Thomas Jefferson I believe that God gave us a brilliant intellect that He expects us to use to solve problems rather than waiting for Him to perform miracles. I think that God exists in many different forms in hundreds of different cultures. There is no one perfect way of believing or living and we have to respect those differences. To me that means that no religion should ever be allowed to encroach on the freedoms of any individual. We should each be free to influence our children as we see fit and to model our beliefs with loving example. Forcing others to be clones of one set of beliefs is anathema to the very freedoms that we all cherish. Sadly we seem to have forgotten that very important lesson. One size never fits all. If we are to err should be in granting more freedoms to more people, not less.
One thought on “One Size Never Fits All”
Thanks~! As usual, so well said and such an important subject I feel it should be reposted on my Facebook site. We are in a period where the bigots are trying to move the gains backwards with the slogan MAGA~!