Picture it... McDonald's sometime in the early 70s, a small dark haired boy is seated with his family enjoying a hamburger and fries when he suddenly realizes that there is a serious lack of ketchup packets to go 'round. He takes it upon himself to supply his loved ones with this much in-demand condiment and slides out of the booth. As he approaches the counter, where tired voices mumbling "Can I help you?" are heard and long lines trickle back to the entrance, he places himself near a cashier to make his request. Although he makes eye contact with several folks behind the counter and even opens his mouth to speak several times, no one acknowledges him long enough to listen. Being rather shy and unassertive the child waits while 15 feet away his hamburger grows cold. This continues until finally a nice older woman with large purse and kind eyes, points out to the worker that this patient boy has been standing there and perhaps should go first. Finally the boy gets his ketchup and returns to his family, who by now have finished eating, and are no longer in need of ketchup.
Well, that boy was me. And I vowed then and there that I when I grew up I would always pay attention to the child at the proverbial counter. I remember thinking this so clearly and am happy to say that I have followed through on that long ago promise.
Second instance... I am watching the 1976 made for TV movie "Sybil" starring Sally Field. This is a tale of extreme abuse and the devastating affects it has on a child. In a flashback scene a young Sybil is brought to see a doctor who is puzzled by the condition of this little girl. It seems to slowly dawn on him that not all is right in the Dorsett household but he decides to keep his mouth shut and not get involved. The truly heartbreaking moment comes when the little girl looks up at the doctor (both knowing the other knows what horrors have been taking place) as she is being led away by her mother – the inflicter of all this pain. Their eyes meet and the last shred of hope in her young life is shattered when he breaks eye contact and looks away. This killed me. It was another moment when I thought…”boy when I grow up I will be the one to save that little girl”.
These are small moments that changed my future. It is my intention to respect children and listen to what they have to say. I have a great love of the young ones, their enthusiasm, their joy, their worries, their moods. All of it. And I am happy to witness when others show children respect.
So, I was enthralled yesterday when I went down to our lunch room to find that all of the old metal ‘picnic bench’ type seating had been removed and replaced with round tables and individual chairs, all light wood and inviting. However, the touch that really moved me was that each table had flowers as a centerpiece.
The children gasped when they saw it – a mixture of confusion and joy. The normally chaotic atmosphere of students arriving for lunch was replaced with a palpable wonder. In a most dignified manner students selected tables and began conversing. What happened to the running around, the yelling, and the noise? My theory is that they felt respected and in turn dignified that respect.
This change of environment is in keeping with the philosophy of our school and the beliefs of those practitioners of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. After some of my colleagues returned from Italy to visit these schools they came back espousing the wonderful sense of community and respect everyone had for the students. Meals were lovingly prepared with fresh ingredients, tables were set using real silverware and dishes, and children were seated at low circular tables conducive to conversation. That is a far cry from the way things are done in a New York City Department of Education School.
But, in our school things are shifting. Children are respected. I applaud everyone there who had a hand in making this possible and in making me proud to be a part of it all.