The last post was by Mike Wilper, a middle school teacher at Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, NY. This post is by two of his students, describing their experiences learning about dignity.
Dignity, such an underrated word. It impacts you and changes your life. It is the center of triumphs and when disregarded, the beginning of wars. When my humanities teacher Mr. Wilper introduced us to the word dignity, it seemed like a word used as a term of pity. “Leave the man his dignity,” people would say. That was the meaning of dignity, no more no less. But when I met Mr. Wilper, I realized how impactful the word really is.
After a year with Mr. Wilper, I learned dignity was more than just being nice to people. It incorporates so many more aspects. It is compassion, inclusivity, and most of all acceptance. The true test of dignity is to treat people as equal, without focusing on the fact that they have a different skin color or if they are gay. Learning about dignity helped me so much in all aspects of my life. I was given a lens to see the world differently, I could see the tribalism in the world, sexism in beauty products, and the shallow evil characters portrayed in children’s movies. After seeing this I realized people don’t know about dignity. They don’t have that lens. People see wrong in the world, but they don’t see the wrong right outside their front door.
If more people my age were given this lens, we would become a better generation. Our generation could help fix the world, even at our age. However, people believe little kids my age need to be shielded as much as possible. We need to be protected from the evil in the world, so we can keep our innocence. With innocence however, comes ignorance. Children have no idea what they mean when they say, that’s so gay! They have no idea that they are violating the dignity of people who are just like them. In order for children to understand how to treat people with dignity, the protective shields must rise so children can see the world as it really is. If the shields rise, kids will realize the world needs help and there is something they can do.
Dignity has a say in more than you might think. In so many conflicts, the conflict might be about something small, but at the heart of these conflict are dignity violations. When dignity isn’t addressed you can’t solve conflicts. They may end, but other similar conflicts start because of the same violation. Dr. Donna Hicks solves these conflicts when they have spiraled out of control. Once countries have started killing others to make a point, they won’t stop fighting. They still hold grudges against each other and the conflicts don’t end. Dr. Hicks addresses the core of the argument through lenses of dignity. If dignity was recognized in our world, truly recognized and listened to, so many conflicts would end and people would accept each other for who they are. Dignity is not harmony. It’s acceptance of all people and solving conflicts reasonably and without prejudice or revenge.
Walking into Mr. Wilper’s 5th grade classroom for the first time, I didn’t expect much. But a few weeks into the year, I realized just how lucky I was.
This class was like no other that I had had before. The curriculum was more or less decided by us students, and I learned about topics that I never would have elsewhere, such as the dangers of generalizations, how mindsets can affect our performance, and how seeing others through different lenses can change our attitude towards them. Mr. Wilper’s class taught me about current problems in our society that I was only vaguely aware of before. But one of the most impacting subjects I learned about last year was dignity, how it can be violated, and the issues that violation of dignity can lead to. I don’t think it goes too far to say that learning about dignity changed my perspective on the world. My classmates and I used to say that we had learned more in the past year than we had in all of our other school years combined. Although this statement is a bit exaggerated, there is much truth to it. Thank you, Mr. Wilper.
I spent the summer between 5th and 6th grade reading, traveling, and wishing I would get Mr. Wilper again next year. My friend even told me she had nightmares about not getting Mr. Wilper, which goes to show just how desperate we were to get him. But as I took a first look at my new schedule, I saw another name in Mr. Wilper’s place.
Ms. Sax, it read. I have to say, it was a huge disappointment. I remember on the first day of school, Ms. Sax asked us if who had had Mr. Wilper last year. I raised my hand along with a few others. Then she asked how many of us were disappointed that we hadn’t gotten him again. My hand was still up. But as the year progressed I realized that Ms. Sax was just as amazing of a teacher as Mr. Wilper! I continued to learn about topics such as dignity, identity contingencies, and current problems in our society. Over the year we learned about Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, South Sudan (and the water crisis there) the Middle East, and we are currently learning about the Boxer Revolution in China. We have read texts such as the play Antigone by Sophocles, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, and we are now reading the graphic novels Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.
One of our assignments this year was to write an essay analyzing tribalism and how to solve it. Here is a paragraph from an essay I wrote on empathy after reading The Outsiders:
“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of inhumanity.” Those are the words of George Bernard Shaw addressing the dangers dehumanization. This quote is old, but unfortunately dehumanization has not gone away. Dehumanization, along with tribalism, and charged labels, have been problems for as long as humans have been alive, and may continue to be problems if we do not act now. As difficult as it seems, it is possible to fight against these issues. One of the most effective ways of solving these difficulties is increasing empathy. Empathy is a major factor in eliminating world problems.
One way of using empathy for good is to use it to heal tribalistic thinking. For example, in the book The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, people are divided into two social groups, the Greaser and the Socs. The two groups are extremely tribalistic towards their group and fight each other frequently. But over the course of the book, Ponyboy, the main character, comes to realize that greasers and Socs are not that different. Towards the end of the book Randy, a Soc, and Ponyboy, a Greaser, have a talk that changes their opinions on each other’s social group considerably. When Ponyboy’s friends ask him why a Soc wanted to talk with him, he responds, “He ’aint a Soc…he’s just a guy.” (118, Hinton). By talking with each other, both boys were able to understand, empathize, and have an open mind about each other. Because of this, they were able to push past tribalism and see the world from a much clearer lense. If society was able to look at others with more empathy, the effects of tribalism would be lessened greatly, if not completely.
The essay goes on to explain how empathy can help to solve dehumanization and charged labels as well. This essay shows how learning about topics such as dignity and values impacted my writing (Thank you Ms. Sax!). My writing improved by an enormous chunk from the first day of 5th grade last year to now, nearing the end of 6th grade. Dignity was a big part of my education through 5th and 6th grade. Learning about dignity improved my education, and I wish that every child had the opportunity to learn about dignity.