If you have been following this blog at all in the past 9 months, you will know that when I retired last June, it was with a great deal of sadness and a fair amount of regret.
I loved teaching. I loved spending my days with children, helping them to grow and to think and to learn about themselves. As I moved into the fall with no classroom full of children around me, I found myself somewhat adrift.
But then Donald Trump happened and I was able to view my new life, sans classroom, with more relief than regret.
And here’s why.
Because this country has focused so intently in the past few years on ending the epidemic of bullying in our schools, that’s why.
And if I was still teaching, I would have to find a way to explain to my group of tender young children why it is suddenly acceptable and even admirable for an adult to be a bully, while they are expected to show more restraint, kindness and humanity.
If I was still taking care of 25 ten year old children, I would have to answer questions about why so many Americans choose to elect a man who publicly curses as he talks about his plans to kill others. (“I’d bomb the shit out of them.”) I would have to somehow find a way to explain, if not excuse, the adoration that so many adults in our country are showing to a man who announces his desire to “punch that protestor in the face”. I would have to find a way to explain lies, name calling, insults, racism, sexism……
I don’t know what I would do. I don’t how I would respond.
So for the first time since my sudden decision to retire, I am truly relieved NOT to be in a classroom any longer.
I was listening to my XM radio tonight as I drove through the rain to go grocery shopping. I was listening to the POTUS radio station, which features “Politics of the United States for the People of the United States.” The show that was on was called “Steele and Ungar”, and its usually one that I truly enjoy. It features a man who once served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee (Michael Steele) and man who came through Hollywood and entered the world of progressive political talk (Rick Ungar). I love the show because the two men clearly enjoy each other’s company and respect and understand each other as they debate the day’s politics through their very different viewpoints.
Tonight the topic of the Donald was the featured discussion on the show. Michael Steele, while not a supporter of Trump, kept repeating that he knows the man personally, and doesn’t think that he will be as terrifying or as inept as so many of seem to fear. Rick Ungar, on the other hand, repeatedly stated his own discomfort with the idea of Trump as President. Here was his main concern: he stated his firm belief that no matter whether or not Americans agree with their President, they must respect him/her out of respect for the office. “But what do I tell my Grandchildren if Trump becomes President?”, he asked. “What do I tell them when the most powerful man in the world says things that I tell them they must never say? What do I tell them when he behaves in ways that I tell them are wrong?”
I understand Mr. Ungar’s discomfort and confusion. I don’t know what I would tell my students if I had to try to explain all this to them. But I do know this:
I would NOT tell my children that they need to respect the person who holds the office of President. I would do my best to make it clear that differences of opinion are not enough to warrant a lack of respect. But I would make it very clear to them, as I did so often when I was raising my own children and teaching the children of other parents, that respect must be earned.
Respect. Must. Be. Earned.
We do not merit respect because of our wealth, or our position of power, or our fame or our ability to out shout or out insult those around us. We earn respect by showing ourselves to be thoughtful, kind, caring and respectful of others.
If Mr. Trump is elected, I will not respect him. I don’t respect bullies. I won’t respect them.
I would never ever ever ask children to respect someone who fails to behave as well as they do.
Sorry, Rick Ungar. But Respect. Must. Be. Earned.