By James Kelly
As a child, I wasn’t able to learn and process information the same way other kids seemed to be able to. I struggled to learn to read in full sentences. I had trouble tying my shoes. Sports and athletics? No luck there either.
I was in reading group three. Reading group three was for students who struggled to read and were considered to be “mentally slow.”
I was sad and frustrated. I was made fun of and bullied.
I didn’t understand why this group of kids that I wanted so badly to be a part of didn’t want anything to do with me.
At the time, I didn’t know enough to understand that bullying harms perpetrators as much as it does victims.
Despite my seemingly hopeless situation, I found a way forward with the help of great educators and support from my family.
Today, we find ourselves at one of the most divisive times in our country’s recent history. The conversations between people of opposing thoughts carried out in public forums have become increasingly hostile, perpetuating a culture that normalizes violent behavior.
Pope Francis, in his most recent encyclical, more aptly describes this driving force in our society today. “The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.”
There’s a candidate for the Board of Education that will appear on the ballot this November that has, time and time again, demonstrated that this is the behavior they will employ in discussions where there are differences in opinion.
In the last year alone, you can witness a pattern of erratic behavior often including personal attacks of administrators and board members, on occasion even involving their families in public comments like on July 16, 2019. For reference, you can view instances on meeting videos on Aug. 27, 2019; on Sept. 24, 2019; on Dec. 17, 2019; on Feb. 13, 2020; on March 11, 2020 and via electronic submission on multiple occasions during this public health crisis, often taking the opportunity to use it as a platform to campaign for her election.
Most recently, in a public comment submitted for the Sept. 3 meeting, this candidate decided that it was their role to determine a fellow candidate was not qualified to serve on the board citing that this individual “has not been before the board and is not questioning the policies currently being violated by the board.” I must have missed that piece in the requirements for candidacy.
I’m not naive. I know we are an imperfect board and my end is not to defend the actions we have taken as a collective. Neither is it my objective to ridicule another individual. I’m also not that same child I was in grade school, wondering why these kids hurt me. I know enough now to understand that more often than not, those bullies are hurting more than we’ll ever know. That they are in need of more empathy and support than we can imagine and most importantly, that they are not in a position where they are looking outside of themselves to help the other. For reference, see our current state of affairs and the attitudes of the administration that have brought us here. Divided we have fallen.
The answer lies not in continued hostility and aggression but in finding it in ourselves to put aside our pride and approach the table with humility and a willingness to have hard conversations with compassion. That is how our students will be best served.
I found a way forward as a child. With the help of a great community of supporters, we came up with strategies to help me learn and graduate. I didn’t know that I had learning disabilities until I was an adult. Even my attempt at sports was affected by my vision and poor depth perception.
I got through high school, then college, and became a teacher. Afterward, I earned a master’s degree before receiving my doctorate. I retired as a college president. At each step, I drew on the strength and support of the teams and individuals around me. It was the collaboration of those around me in a position to influence my learning that helped me succeed.
Francis continues, “We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.”
I get the sense that some might be pursuing a podium rather than an opportunity to affect positive change for our students. This National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s challenge ourselves to be better. To consider the other and to act out of a sincere desire to improve outcomes for our students. Let’s build this dream together.
James is a member of the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education.Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:
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