America is going back to school. Little munchkins are buying notebooks, boarding busses, and beginning a new year of education, fun, and tribalism. Cliques are forming and re-forming in the primordial ooze of public schools. Some kids are wooed, others cautiously invited in and too many are overlooked, marginalized, and excluded.
You went to school, right? Were you the same color as most of your classmates? One of my friends, a tall, fair, redhead, arrived for the first day of ninth grade in her new school to find a classroom otherwise entirely filled with students of Pakistani descent. Her teacher arrived, noticed her, and said, “You must be the new girl!” She replied, “How’d you guess?” It’s a challenge to be different.
Thousands of variables affect group formation and insider/outsider status in our kids’ schools. As followers of Jesus, maybe we should be concerned about them all. We should definitely take pains to keep kids from being mistreated because they happen to be Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim. In fact, maybe we should encourage our kids to extend a hand to such kids.
What can your little Jesus kids do about this? In ascending order of social riskiness, they could…
- Keep their cute little mouths shut! Simply don’t join in when kids are being made fun of for the color of their skin or the religious situation they were born into. (They’ll do what they’ve seen at home!)
- Sit by the kids no one wants to sit by. Talk to them. (“I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”)
- Invite those kids to into their group. “Sit with us.” “Be on my team.” “Do you have a group for the project yet? Join ours.” (As a bonus, overlooked smart kids will help your kids’ grades!)
- Defend them before the “popular” kids. (This is gonna leave a mark!)
- Invite them to dinner at your house! (Stock up on halal snacks!)
Are there Muslim students at your school? Download this one-page primer for your kids. Take a quick look before you give it to them because you may want to yell at me, “Dude, what are you? 100 years old?” If you want to amend it for others to make it better, let me know. Or simply adapt it for your kids; you do know how to cut and paste.
If, during the first couple days of school, you’ll simply greet the mom in the burka or say hey to the dad with the odd name, your kids may get the picture and behave the same way. Unless they are thirteen, in which case they will just do the opposite of what you say and do!