I went into teaching, I used to say, because I wanted to get the kids before they became adults, before they had learned oppression, anger and hate, before their choices were deeply engrained. My feeling was and is that something happens that takes away what is innately beautiful in the human spirit after years of being schooled in society and that I could, in my small way, protect and preserve some of that beauty and innocence. I felt this way because I know how we were as kids. I know the childlike sense of wonder we had even as things took a dark turn, which for my friends was too soon.
I had seen it. I saw a boy draw incredibly well and read books far beyond his age of ten years and then he came to me, in 5th grade, and asked me to see if his breath smelt like alcohol. I saw a beautiful girl create from nothing in her drawings, and then I watched as she struggled to get food for herself and her mom. I saw a boy who loved reading so much, that despite pain and nowhere to go he did it anyway, and I watched him as he raised his brothers and sisters. He became a father be And me, the little girl who hid behind books and who so deeply loved learning, but whose innocence was gone before I even had time to believe in Santa Claus. I played the games of childhood and had sleepovers, but unlike normal sleepovers ours were the kind where tears were shed and dark secrets were revealed, and when they were revealed it was always a child holding the secret of an adult who was hurting them.
I remember watching the commercials of families, and thinking that these worlds were mystical and untouchable and I couldn’t understand why mine wasn’t like that. We daydreamed and made up imaginary worlds, and joked and teased, and passed notes, and loved purely and honestly. But we also made up for the mistakes of adults. I’d see parenting magazines in the waiting room and wonder who lived like that. Isn’t that the world we want for our kids. Crafts and creativity and a warm home and dinner? There is no reason we shouldn’t have had that, but we didn’t.
And when you are a child, the world is only what you experience and so you come to believe that your world is that all exists and that there is some invisible force shaping it. Then you grow up, and you learn that it is choices, made by adults. I am haunted everyday by this reality, because it means that adults decided that my friends and I didn’t deserve education, healthcare, warmth, love, shelter, and dreams. They decided that their comfort was more important than our having that. `I figured this out early, and it made me angry and it made me sad, but most of all it broke my heart.
It broke my heart because of who we were as kids. We shared, we were kind, we were open, we were fair, we were curious and full of hope. We were the pure embodiment of what humanity is at its finest, and we lived in a system that did everything it could to beat that out of us. The adults chose this. They decided that their wants outweighed the needs of children. They decided that my friends weren’t worthy of life and hope. They decided that we didn’t deserve to reach our full potential. They decided that we would not be free or conscious. They decided that some children were worth less than others. The perpetrated a system, over and over, replicating the evils and injustice that maims and kills the human spirit. They had a choice, and they chose this. I do what I can in the little ways that I can to protect my children’s innocence, but for all of my work I cannot stop it, I can only be a small match of comfort in an incredibly dark world. We all have to get together and choose something else. We all have to say we want to do better.
Kids know right from wrong, they can tell you what is fair and kind. Then people get to college and they say “how do we really know what evil is? It is all relative.” But me, I knew evil, I had woken up to evil every single day of my life for 18 years and there was no question for me, and there was no philosophical debate, and there was no argument that could ever change my mind. I know evil personally. Evil is the malicious harm of the innocent. We are harming the innocent. We choose to harm the innocent. We choose cruelty over kindness. We choose power and comfort over integrity and responsibility. We choose to sell our humanity to the highest bidder. We train our children such that they will someday make that choice too.
When we talk about this as if the social structure is not built by choice, it becomes incredibly easy to get around responsibility or to lose hope. But I know, because I can see it in our children, that we possess so much good within us. That a society can harness that goodness and make things better or it can warp and destroy that innocence. We have free will. We are human, and if each one of us chose to be conscious, and chose to be good we could build a society that facilitated children becoming the best, natural, versions of themselves. That is what equity is.