(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star
Sarah Scott Middle School Principal Scotia Brown had a question for her students.
“What if today and going forward, we made everyone feel good about being here?”
Could anyone argue this was anything but a noble goal? We’d like to think the answer is an obvious and hard “no.” But when we dig deeper, we realize it’s not so simple.
Across our nation – and here in Indiana – vigorous efforts to control how race and racism is taught are ongoing. Not only that, but ideas and conversations about other tough subjects like LGBTQ+ rights and even women’s rights (“The Handmaid’s Tale” has recently been banned in libraries and schools nationwide) are being censored.
In Brown’s case, she was carrying out a lesson during Black History Month. The lesson didn’t shy away from the hard truth that racism is alive and well. One path toward eradicating it, she and her colleagues offered, can be as simple as using affirming instead of hurtful words.
What if we replace “You don’t belong here” with “Would you like to join us?” she asked.
Learning about the weight of words was among various exercises and activities during the month of February that allowed the middle-schoolers the opportunity to dig deeper into their understanding of very current issues and to also consider possible solutions.
The depth of the lessons at Sarah Scott and the obvious amount of time and energy put into the school’s efforts stand apart in this politically turbulent climate.
Brown and her fellow educators are true heroes. They aren’t afraid of threats of censorship, or if they are, they push past the fear and stand up for the truth anyway, teaching their students to do the same.
Their goal was – and is – to teach children to speak up and not shy away from uncomfortable conversations, especially those surrounding racism. The result? Young men and women – the future of this community – would be armed with knowledge and compassion and equipped to have difficult conversations with those whose opinions and even truths differ from their own. They are our future leaders who will be able to express understanding and kindness in ways that open conversations instead of closing them, and who will be more informed and fair in their decision making. And perhaps most importantly, they will come to the table, the boardroom, the assembly line, the construction site, the classroom, as politicians, healthcare workers and more with an empathy that’s difficult to find in 2023.
“We want our students to know they have the power to change the environment and create a positive culture here in the school and the community,” Brown said.
With Brown’s efforts, we can be assured a group of well-educated and deeply understanding young people is prepared to lead us into the future, a group of students already unafraid to ask what it would mean if everyone “felt good about being here.”