Friday, October 26, 2018


I've always known that some of my fellow citizens don't value inclusion as a foundational American principle, but I do. I have to believe that most of us do, at least philosophically. We're a nation of newcomers, we always have been, and that, I'm convinced is the source of any greatness we've ever achieved as a people.

Inclusion is a principle we likewise value at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. As a cooperative school, we can't function without the active participation of all of our families, and one of the hallmarks of a thriving community is how quickly newcomers are brought into the center. I reckon we've all found ourselves on the outside, feeling uncertain and unwelcome. Cliques of any kind are toxic, they tend to create an opaqueness behind which misunderstanding, prejudice, and distrust fester. It's why I could never join, for instance, a fraternity. Inclusion is about transparency and the fundamental democratic notion that we sink or swim together.

That said, I still lock my door at night. Our school excludes pedophiles, people carrying guns, and, those who are clearly intoxicated. These are matters of safety, civility, and even morality for us, and because of that we have the right, and even the responsibility, to bar the door. We all draw lines and where we ought to draw them is always a matter of perspective.

Children pick up and play with these concepts just as they pick up and play with every "loose part" they find on the playground of their lives. I find myself objecting when they, say, draw their line at gender ("No boys allowed!") or hair color or some other arbitrary marker of difference. I find myself agreeing when they seek to exclude those who hit, knock down their block constructions, or otherwise hurt or destroy. And I sympathize when they find themselves in the gray areas, such as when two friends simply don't want their intimacy infringed. As adults, we're there to coach them through it, but it's not always easy because while most of us value inclusion, we all also know there are times and places when it's okay to say "you can't play." We spend our lives figuring that out.

When children experiment with exclusion, we often find ourselves becoming emotional. We've all been there, we've all found ourselves on the outside looking in. We know the pain and injustice of rejection. We easily empathize with the victims. At the same time, we've all been on the other side as well, locking our doors in the name of safety, civility, or intimacy. Some of the lines we draw are hard and fast, while others are situational. And, of course, our opinions change as we grow and learn.

We are all working on it every day and our children are no different. This is difficult and important stuff, fraught with emotion. What we do is talk and listen and talk and listen. We may not always be successful in reaching agreement, but failure is guaranteed if we retreat behind our walls.

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