During the last few months, our community and school district has felt like a battle field. We have orange shirts and blue shirts. We have Facebook groups galore. We have signs and advertisements and folks who are screaming at school board meetings. There have been fights about the definition of equity, masking protocols, school board funding and everything else under the sun. Is this really who we want to be? Is this really the example we want to send to our kids?
I know most of you know what “side” of things I am on. I believe in social and educational equity. I believe in the vaccine, masking protocols and the science from the CDC. I think our kids deserve a chance to live in a place that is safe and welcoming for everyone, regardless of who they are. My dream would be to live in a world that accepts and celebrates people because of their differences. A world where we value the importance of community and connection – reaching out to learn and grow together. A place where kids shouldn’t have to be afraid to be queer or Black or trans or neuro-divergent. A place where I can drive around Sartell and attend community meetings and not feel the hatred, intolerance and general daunting notion that our community is going to tear itself apart.
At the last school board meeting, there were a few students who spoke up about their experiences and their needs. They talked about what they’re witnessing and feeling in the community. I want to give a round of applause to every student who spoke. It’s so important for all of us to be invested in our communities. They are our source of love, assistance, family, friendship, church, hope and humanity, So why are we tearing ourselves apart?
When I left the school board meeting last week, a woman behind me just looked at me and said “I can tell you and I don’t have the same beliefs. You should go see a psychologist.” As the school board wrapped up the meetings, I heard someone yell “sell your houses!” On my own Facebook page, people have told me to “move out of the country,” and to “look out in case something happens to you or your family.” In school, our kids are calling each other “terrorists” and are throwing around the N-word, the R-word, and the F-word strictly as oppressive slurs in order to harass, bully and torment each other. There are ads being sent to our whole community threatening to “take our school and school board back,” and parents who are upset that kids are being asked to participate in discussions about things happening in their own schools. What are we doing to each other?
I’m not going to pretend like I can sit up on this high horse either. I know I have done more than my fair share of Facebook arguing. I know there are plenty of times I have probably responded with apathy and intolerance. I don’t think any of us can pretend like we haven’t. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it.
Right now, we are really only showing our kids how to be close-minded, intolerant and divisive. We are showing them how to be bullies. We are telling them they don’t have a voice or a say in the matter when we drown them out at school board meetings and dismiss their experiences as “only a minority” or “that it didn’t happen at all.” Instead of teaching our kids kindness, critical thinking, empathy and understanding, we are introducing them to a world of violence, hatred, ignorance, misinformation and oppression. And yes, that might be the state of the world (now and for the time being), but we don’t have to be like this? We don’t have to treat each other like this.
I am excited for our community to continue forward with conversations of equity and equality in order to create a learning space that is accessible for all. As a recent Kids Over Politics post said, we want to make sure everyone has “individualized attention and resources to help them learn.” We all have the same goal. We really only want one thing. So let’s stop trying to defund our schools, fire school board members, harass our teachers, ban books, advocate for cameras in the classroom, bully each other and send messages to our kids that we aren’t listening, don’t care and refuse to see them for who they are. We can do better than that. We ARE better than that. Can we please move forward?