Intersections: Not My Kids, You Don't

February 08, 2017 by Bill Ivey

You all probably know the poem,

  • “First they came for [group of people] and I did not speak out, because I was not [part of that group of people]...
  • then they came for…
  • (...)
  • and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

It’s based on a text by Pastor Martin Neimöller, and he himself created multiple versions, with countless other variations out there. Despite its themes of inclusion and courage, it has been somewhat controversial, in part because Pastor Neimöller was originally a supporter of Adolf HItler although later on he became anti-Nazi, and also for which groups are included in which order in any specific version.

But the main idea behind it is anything but controversial, and can be connected  to our national motto, E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One). As Benjamin Franklin put it following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” More simply put: in unity, there is strength.

I know in our larger community there are a wide range of opinions about different policies, actions, nominations, and appointments being discussed in these first two weeks of President Trump’s administration. And of course, that’s as it should be. Unity does not require uniformity - indeed, uniformity can often undermine unity by hiding the differences that, taken together, make us stronger.

But, like any community, we also have our firm core principles. In our case, these are most clearly and concisely articulated in our Mission Statement. Our Statement on Diversity, while it can stand alone, is in essence an interpretation of our Mission Statement through a specific lens. In essence, then, our core principles are:

  • We are a global community that fosters a global perspective.
  • We place a premium on honor, respect, and intellectual curiosity, exercised both independently and ethically.
  • We value the individuality of each and every one of our students and encourage them to be their best authentic selves and assert themselves as such.
  • We commit to take actions so that the world will hear and value the voices of each and every one of our graduates.

That’s each. and. every. one.

Between Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands, I teach nearly one-third of the school, and I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students in my classroom in my 32 years. I’ve taught or otherwise worked with kids who identify as boys, as girls, as non-binary people, and more. Who identify as asexual, bisexual, heterosexual, lesbian, pansexual, and more. Who identify as Asian, Black, Indian, Latina, White, mixed race, and more. Who practice Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and more, or who identify as agnostics or atheists. Who are conservative, liberal, moderate, or a mish-mash of all-of-the-above. Who are poor, rich, and everything in between. Who have a million other aspects to their identity. Who are all My Kids.

And the true emphasis here needs to be on Kids. They deserve, they need to have safe and comfortable spaces in which to explore into whom they are growing and what place they are taking in their world. I’ll not have that threatened.

I remember early last year, several kids in my Humanities 7 class were upset and worried as we approached their first safety drill at our school. Eventually, I told them something like, “The police department, who knows what they’re doing, have approved our school’s plan. And part of that approval is an explicit acknowledgement that we adults need to feel free to act on our instincts to do whatever seems best in the moment. I’m a pacifist, and as a pacifist, I’ve had to put extra time into thinking through what I would be capable of doing. And I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion. Even as a pacifist, I will do whatever I can think of to keep you all safe. For one thing, it’s my responsibility. But for another, I love you all too much to do otherwise.” They relaxed and settled down almost immediately.

So if Executive Orders are signed, legislation proposed, or nominees considered, I apply this primary standard as I judge what position I personally want to take: how will it affect my kids? All of them, in all of their identities.

And then, I act.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: Intersections, Feminism, feminist school, LGBT Support, anti-racism, diversity