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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Silence Is a Good Start...

By Peter DeWitt — April 10, 2014 1 min read
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On Friday, April 11th students across the country will participate in a Day of Silence. The advocates at the student and adult level who participate in this day are bringing awareness to the fact that there are many students around the country who attend a hostile school where they are not allowed to be who they want.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine not being able to express yourself the way that you want? It happens more than you think, and it’s not just an issue in hostile schools. It happens in whispers at some of the best schools. The following words were e-mailed to me by a mom, and her son goes to a self-described “good school.”

I try really hard to be accepting and supportive. Sometimes, I can get caught up in the duplicity of it. On one hand, I want my son to feel secure in his decisions. On the other hand, I want to protect him from the bias and stereotypes I know exist out here. When my son was three, his most prized possession was his toy kitchen. It was pink, purple and just his size. Some of my family members believe "it" started then. "You never should have let him have a kitchen." Around that same time, my son wanted a baby doll to play with. I saw no problem with it and that Christmas he received one of those toys too. My family members think that is what started all of this and I should have known better. From a very early age, Jack has been able to express his awareness that he does not fit into the typical boy role. He would not play with a truck if it was the last toy on earth. My decisions as a mother have caused many family discussions. Some I have not appreciated at all. I think others looking in perceive I am taking the easy way out with my son. They couldn't be any further from the truth. It is heartbreaking to raise a young man whom, time after time, gets knocked down and picks himself back up. Somehow, somewhere inside, my son has developed the resilience to keep trying. Somehow, sometimes, I don't have that nearly the same resilience. I want so hard to protect him. I find myself in silly discussions that if taken out of context, they would be laughable. A part of me wants to bad to talk him out of carrying the Divergent book around as his independent reading. A part of me wants him to stop creating new designs out of his clothing. A part of me wishes he would just wear a pair of plain, white socks instead of the mismatched, neon ones he prefers. That part of me is tired. I am tired of catching the glances from other kids and one or two adults to my son. Another part of me is sad. Sad that with all of our talk about acceptance and tolerance, I realize we still have such a long way to go. And yet, another part of me is afraid. I am afraid I am not doing enough to support him. I know supporting him is what's most important but all I really want to do is protect him. I am afraid what these next few years will bring as I suspect they will some of the most difficult for him. When my son is grown, I want so very much for him to look back and remember a Mom that believed in him and supported him. That really is my life goal. I need to make sure my actions today get me closer to that goal."

The Day of Silence isn’t just for the students who can’t speak up for themselves. The Day of Silence is for those students who speak out in numerous ways every day, but get glances and whispers behind their back for doing it. The Day of Silence is for the parents of those students who want them to be who they are, and sometimes struggle with that decision because they get pressure from friends and family.

It’s also to help support those parents who lie awake at night because they fear for their child’s safety, or...for their happiness. It’s also for those older adults in the LGBT community who struggled through their formal school experience, and hope for better days for their younger LGBT community members.

Many people don’t understand why schools choose to participate in the Day of Silence, but they probably also don’t understand why young men like Jack can’t just dress “normal” or play with “boy” things. We should be allowed to be, not only who we want to be, but who we are.

The Day of Silence may bring together thousands of students across the country who don’t want to say a word on April 11th in support for all of those students who can’t speak out at all. But the Day of Silence also recognizes those students like Jack who know exactly who they are, and even if you don’t understand, you still can accept.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.