Director's Corner: On Solidarity

Solidarity is part of the fabric of the Magnolia community. It encompasses the values of respect and inclusion contained in the Magnolia Path. It manifests itself in many ways, some more straightforward than others: families and teachers rallying to help each other in case of a disease, an accident, a financial crisis; a private donor providing an anonymous scholarship; teachers covering for each other; students participating in community service; the Magnolia community as a whole supporting the Holiday Angels program. Any time teachers come up with activities that promote bonding and group cohesion, often in the context of tackling a common challenge, they encourage solidarity among students. Good examples are the middle school annual Rendezvous experience, the Halloween Tunnel, or the play and individual acts Paige just helped the middle schoolers put together. Teaching solidarity is, however, by no means an easy endeavor. It involves fighting prejudice and self-righteousness, two social evils that seem to generate spontaneously even among our youngest population. A typical dynamic, observed in all classrooms at one time or another, arises when some kids realize how reactive one of their peers is, start teasing that peer to elicit a reaction, protest indignantly when the child lashes back and express satisfaction when he or she gets in trouble for it, a sure recipe to condemn the reactive child to subsequent social failure.

Passing hasty judgments on the reactive child or on the teasing peers is not helpful. No child chooses to have a short fuse, and ganging up against one viewed as different or socially inappropriate is, sadly, part of natural development. As a school, we do not label kids as good or bad, we are committed to helping all sides reverse unhealthy dynamics and grow in the process. We do recognize, however, that the remedy always takes longer to implement than the dynamic took to establish itself. In the above example, it involves working on self-regulation with the overreactive child, thus decreasing his or her sensitivity, while working on solidarity with the peers, helping them find ways to make the other child successful. Social success is a springboard for more social success for the targeted child, and for acceptance on the part of the peers.

In this kind of dynamic, solidarity among the families of the children involved is also crucial. That type of solidarity is more subtle and does not come easily. Parents whose child is less easy are more stressed than other parents and need support, not criticism or intimidation. As parents, we all tend to get emotional when it comes to our children and our sense of their safety and well-being. Like them, we need to learn to "take a STAR": stop, take a breath and relax. We need to trust the school to observe patterns, identify dynamics and act on them to ensure everybody's safety and growth. And we need to reinforce the concept of solidarity at home, encouraging our children to accept their peers non-judgmentally and to help them be successful.

If you hang out in any classroom or on the playground, you will undoubtedly witness some angry, unkind exchanges, some of which (but not many) may escape teachers' scrutiny. More often, you will witness how teachers patiently separate the parties, acknowledge the emotions, and help problem-solve. And most importantly, you will witness an amazing amount of patience and nurturing among children themselves. We will never be all the way where we want to be, but we are proud of where we are. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes solidarity to be a village.

(published in a different form in Dec. 2010)