As both a father and teacher, I feel like a Depression era farmer on the eve of the Dust Bowl. The farmer has done everything to ensure his crops will grow. For years he has worked the soil to make it as fertile as he can, but a hard world has overpowered his good intentions. Day after day he watches helplessly as all he has tried to build blows away with the grains of dirt howling across the flaking paint of his front porch. He wants control, but he has none. He wants to heal the earth he has tended so carefully, but he can't. All he can do is hope.
Tomorrow Donald Trump becomes the next President of The United States. As a teacher and father I find that deeply troubling. For twenty years, I have tried to use literature to teach students the importance of this country’s core beliefs. Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson despite the racist forces of society working against him. Toni Bambara’s “The Lesson” in which a girl living in poverty stands before FAO Schwartz wondering who could afford such things, and why she isn’t in that group. I have tried to teach my sons as well. A sign hanging in my foyer reading “Be Nice, Or Leave.” A couple trips into Philadelphia to hand sandwiches to people in need of a meal in the hopes of inspiring empathy and understanding.
Now I worry the seeds of those ideals will whither and die under the scorching blaze of our next President. I worry a drought of decency begins tomorrow.
As someone who has dedicated my career to fostering social justice in public education, I can’t help but be scared. Lead by a billionaire who has never attended a public school, let alone taught in one, we may usher in a new wave of school vouchers that can drain engaged parents from struggling schools, and leave behind populations without the skills of advocacy, without hope of change. I don’t know what to tell students when they ask why the man picked to run the EPA seems so against ideals of protecting the environment. I don’t know what kind of world my sons will inherit when the science of global warming seems to be up for debate. I don’t want my students or children to believe it is conscionable to deport millions en masse with no consideration of circumstance. I don’t know how long it will be before my sons witness the leader of our country mocking someone with a disability, degrading women, or openly lying to fit his needs. I already miss my President who, despite any political flaws critics levy against him, was the model of decency, and civil discourse.
I have been mired down by this since the election. I have struggled to understand why so many people were capable of looking beyond violations of common decency and overt lies and still elect this man. At times I have felt that the ideals I have tried to sow are drying up and dying out.
Then, yesterday, just two days before the inauguration, I found this on my dining room table. Home sick from school, my youngest son was practicing making sentences with words my mom had cut from magazines. “Now is the time to make your life love,” he had written. And there, in the simple words of my six-year-old son, was the answer. Love.
Facing the hate-filled rhetoric spit out on Twitter, vehement attacks meant to undermine a free press, name-calling and lashing out at any critics, it is time to devote more time to promoting the only known antidote to hate. Now more than ever we must challenge people who make racist or sexist comments, showing our children how to treat difference with respect and love. Now more than ever it is time to show immigrants who are contributing to our economy and raising families on the promise of a better life that they are welcome here and loved. It is time to fight against those who still believe in conversion therapy and teach our kids that everyone is free to choose who they love. It is time to scrape together our watering cans, and buckets, and any small container of hope and fight to nurture the growth of our ideals despite an environment hostile to them.
I fear a drought of decency begins tomorrow, but it is not the first one. Ideals of fairness and justice survived the drought of segregation. Justice for all continued to grow even when all did not mean women. The roots of equality, first sent out through the soils of inequality have proven strong enough to support new branches of gay marriage.
Yes, we are going to face a drought. But, all droughts eventually end. One night, that Depression era farmer heard a rustle through the curtains of his open windows. He sat up beside his loved one who reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. Together they raced barefoot downstairs across the grit of a dirty porch, and out into a deep soaking rain. Fingers laced together, they stared out over the darkening fields. They felt that grace upon them, that beauty, and a blinding euphoric love washed over with each glorious drop. They knew what had been planted would survive.
So too will our ideals of decency survive this drought, if we tend to them.