This I Believe

Kathie - chico, California
Entered on May 10, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50


I believe that the only way to bring peace to the world is to change the way the public education system is set up.

When we start children out in a system that separates kids by grades, economics, beauty or athletic ability we are starting the hierarchy that leads to judgment, cruelty and intolerance.

When our kids start school at five or six years old, they are innocent. They have every reason to believe that they are perfect. Then something happens: they begin to get grades. They notice some kids are treated different than others. The ones that do well on their assignments are given encouragement and praise, while the ones who have a little more difficulty are frowned upon. This makes them feel like they are not good enough.

Kids from wealthier families stand out because of their perfect appearance and fashions, while others are separated because of their athletic ability or because they get straight A’s.

This is grade school, and the groups are already beginning to form. Think of them as little countries: the haves, the have-nots, the thinkers and the athletes who are the soldiers performing on the field.

Now lets go out on to the playground.

What if you are a child who does not fit in any of these groups, a child who is yet to discover his or her special gifts? This child feels like an outcast and is treated like one by all the other kids. These kids are harassed because they are different, so they learn to defend themselves the only way they can. Some become bullies, while others try to make themselves invisible, repressing all their feelings.

I spent fifteen years of my life working with group homes and foster kids, throw away kids, and it seems to me they all had one thing in common: they didn’t fit. Not in grade school, and eventually not even in their families. Many of these kids were violent and many were severely depressed. But despite a lifetime of institutions there seemed to always be a light in their hearts.

One day I came home from work after a three-day shift in a lockdown facility when the phone rang. It was one of these kids calling to tell me the new counselor had been threatened by one of the bigger boys in the center, and she walked off the job and left the keys with the kids. They could have done a lot of things with those keys, but instead they called me back to work.

When I hear about school shootings like Colembine my heart goes out to all the victims, but also to the shooters, because I know they felt like they didn’t fit.

I believe if we put trained advocates in every grade school in the country watching over all the kids, teaching that compassion and inclusion is the only thing that will be tolerated, we would save the children and change the world in one generation.