Recently my 9-year-old son returned from Van Gogh Street Elementary School and announced that he was running for student council. Being a fourth-grader makes him an upper-classman and therefore eligible to run for president or vice president.
As I reviewed the forms he had brought home for authorization, I asked why he had decided to run for vice president instead of president. My concern was that his decision not be a reflection of his beliefs about his capability or an indication that there was a negative internal message about who he is as a little African American boy. I wanted to be clear about his understanding of his ability to be the leader he obviously believes he is.
Cody explained: His understanding of the tradition of the student council was that fifth-graders usually held the position of president. He accepted this as one of the rules. At the end of our conversation, I was proud to sign his forms and support his candidacy for vice president. Cody provided me with new insight about leadership. I am convinced that the children of the San Fernando Valley could provide those of us identified as leaders with critical insight and solutions to many of the dilemmas we face.
The time I spend on the playground with children 12 and younger is a lesson in problem-solving. They offer many models for resolving their differences and remaining friends. What is different about their leadership models and the poor, unsuccessful ones we read about in connection with the Los Angeles Unified School District and other governing agencies is that children understand and have accepted the rules. Children are guided by consequences. In most cases, it matters to them if their peers are unhappy or sad. They have a great respect for established authority, and they understand that if the problem is more than they can handle, help is available: the parent, the teacher, a student conference.
What happened to the sensible dialogue adults are expected to have mastered? What lessons do we expect our children to extract from the public bad behavior demonstrated in connection with LAUSD? How sad and difficult for parents of young children who are working hard, in the face of our differences, to instill life lessons that would help the youngsters be loving, respectful people.
The messages, from newspapers and press conferences, are loud and clear. “Put up your dukes. The rules and consequences and respect are not relevant when I want my own way. And just like the bully in school, I will intimidate, coerce and denounce all who would dare to stand up to me.”
My message to parents is to draw the line in the sand. Decide that remaining on the side of what is best for all children is where we need to be. Do not be seduced by the dramatization of issues. All of our collective efforts and energy should be spent on providing students with the tools they need to be successful. Textbooks for all students, clean bathrooms, safe classrooms, decent lunches, a chair for every child and, most importantly, trained professionals to teach them--these are the things we should be marching and protesting for.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgment and sound integrity--leaders not in love with money but in love with justice; leaders not in love with publicity but in love with humanity; leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.”
I am confident that we have such leaders among us, on the playgrounds of Van Gogh Elementary as well as in the many diverse homes in the Valley.