Monday, February 6, 2017

Children Will Listen

“Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell

Children will listen”
     Stephen Sondheim 


1952 marked the beginning of my interest in presidential elections.  I was seven years old, and I was supporting the Republican candidate--General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  My support had nothing to do with his party. The only parties I understood then were the ones at which I served tea to my dolls in tiny willowware cups. VE Day had happened a month before I was born, so I did not understand his role as a victorious military leader. Certainly I was affected by the fact that my parents—both loyal Republicans—supported Ike. My mother ever volunteered for him.

Eisenhower in Korea Two Weeks
Before His Inauguration
But in my young mind and growing consciousness I supported him for a very specific reason. I heard him say he would go to Korea to find an end to the conflict there, and that solidified my support.

Even at that young age I was very aware of war. At night John Cameron Swayze told me about the war in Korea on the Camel News Caravan. During the day at Frederick Harris School we practiced what to do when the Russian bombs came. When the big planes from Westover AFB flew over the house, I worried. I believed Ike would make peace.

I was not much older when I learned about immigration quotas, and I remember being puzzled and angry at a law that would judge persons by their race or country of origin. The fact that some people who wanted to move to my country could be stopped just because of where they came from seemed very wrong to me.

Of course, my sense of injustice only grew as I heard the news coming from the South about legal racial discrimination.I was ten the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Emmett Till's murder, twelve when Little Rock Central High School was desegregated. Again there were those images on television every night. This time I watched as angry adults screamed menacingly at students just wanting to go to school. 
Elizabeth Eckford Arrives at Little Rock Central HS

Several years ago when I was in Little Rock for a conference, I stopped by the visitors’ center across from Central High School. Old news footage of that day in 1957 ran on old black and white televisions. I was brought back to the horror and fear I experienced as a child.

Sometimes I think we adults forget that children--even very young children--see and hear what is going on in the world, feel the injustice, and are frightened by the actions those in power make. It is not just we who can put together images of the devastation in Syria, families seeking refuge, and a president who would return them to that horror. 

In the past week I have talked to two different teachers who have told me about the debilitating terror some of their students have experienced since the election. They have listened and seen, and they are very afraid.