As Jewish families in our community mark the end of Hanukkah and Christians begin preparations for Christmas, I am reminded that this is a special and sacred time of year for so many of Needham’s children.
Sadly, this season has been marred by violence in Paris and San Bernadino and this, in turn, has stoked expressions of fear and outrage against Muslims. We know that the cowardly and cruel acts of a few should never define the faith and aspirations of the many. Unfortunately, this weekend the FBI is investigating a firebombing at a California mosque, and here in Massachusetts I have learned that a neighbor and colleague at a private Muslim elementary school is quite anxious about the safety and security of her students and staff. As an educator I worry that increasing rhetoric and misplaced fear will fuel even more misunderstanding, distrust, hatred, or violence against Muslims.
Yet I remain hopeful because I believe education is the answer required to assist children to develop the skills, knowledge, mindset, imagination, and courage to tackle enormous dilemmas and problems, especially those related to prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance.
In the Needham Schools I am immensely proud we work hard to ensure that all students, families, and staff are respected and supported regardless of their race, socioeconomic background, nationality, or religious affiliation. Indeed, we discover, learn about, and celebrate the diversity of our students’ ethnicities, languages, traditions, and cultures through the use of literature and art, classroom discussions, service learning, and community meetings. We are unafraid to hold discussions, for example, around race or sexual orientation believing that a conversation can begin to build understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. Of course, we do this work imperfectly and strive to remember and respect the alternative and contrary point of view.
During the holidays—and every day—let’s remember to support those among us who look, speak, or pray differently than we do. Let’s support our Muslim colleagues and families during a time of uncertainty and wariness. Let’s use our classrooms, dining rooms, and houses of worship to assist young people to learn about others, especially as we prepare them for a world hungry for their energy, resilience, creativity, and leadership.
I hope you and your family enjoy a safe and joyful season of peace.