Starting or Stepping Out with the Right Foot by Robert N. Meroney

“Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.” – William Shakespeare, King John, 1595

If one wants peace among mankind to begin and persist, what better way than to begin by “starting out with the right foot” at an early age in a setting of learning. So many of our bad habits, beliefs, and attitudes are instilled at a very early age which makes them extra hard to change or lose.

Years ago, I took my children with me to a sabbatical year in Karlsruhe Germany. We entered them both in German public schools (Grundschule and Gymnasium), but later my son attended the high school at the military base maintained for military service dependents. Given the multiracial mix of our military, he met and studied with kids who were white, black, Chicano, and Asian. He had a good experience there, and he had the opportunity to judge other kids based on how they behaved and not just on how they looked.

At the end of the year on our way home, we stopped by to see my mother, who unfortunately and frankly was very bigoted. She made some very negative comments in front of my son about how “All blacks are xxxxxxxx.”   My son responded by saying, “No grandma that is not true, I had good friends in school in Karlsruhe, and they were not that way at all.”   I was very proud of his response, and I am also glad he had the opportunity to learn through personal experience, which will remain with him all his life.

It is my own personal belief, that God did not make any second-class people. Fortunately, a number of people of good will around the world have concluded the same. There have been deliberate efforts to expose the young to different races, religions and cultures by integrating them at an early age in joint educational experiences. Let’s consider such initiatives which challenge ingrained prejudices and hates especially among communities in conflict.

The Hazelwood Integrated College, Newtownabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland is one of 65 schools (45 primary and 20 post-primaries) and 17,000 students who are committed to genuine reconciliation between catholic and protestant communities based on understanding and accepting diversity through educating children together. https://www.integratemyschool.com/   Hazelwood, founded in 1985, serves students from ages 11 to18.   The school is committed to removing social, cultural and religious barriers such that their graduates can live together in understanding, respect, and harmony. Experiences at integrated schools are being collected in The Big Small Stories project capturing, recording and archiving the memories of the pupils, parents, and teachers. http://www.nicie.org/thebigsmallstories/

In Israel, a nation with a population 75% Jewish and 21% Arab, there has traditionally been no joint school attendance of the two groups. There are now six Hand in Hand schools teaching 1,580 pupils through the age of 12. The Hand in Hand schools bring together the two cultures by teaching in two languages (Hebrew and Arabic) with two teachers from each culture, but in one classroom.   Their mission is to build a shared society “One school, one community at a time.” Their goal over the next ten years is to create a network of 10 to 15 schools, supported by their local bi-cultural communities. In March Hand-in-Hand co-founder Lee Gordon received the Brock International Prize in Education (prize consists of $40,000, a certificate, and a bust of Sequoyah[1] )   https://www.handinhandk12.org/inform/why-we-exist

Today, Integrated Schools are being promoted around the world. In Turkey integrated schools are used to teach Turkish kids and Syrian refugee children in a common environment. In Charlotte, North Carolina, integrated schools are busing students to balance racial compositions and socioeconomic status among whites (45 percent), blacks (35 percent) and Latinos (13 percent). Similar schools are also now present in previously war-torn areas like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Cyprus, and Croatia. Integrated schools are believed to be essential in contributing to the healing of the wounds that afflict conflicted societies, easing the path towards peace, reconciliation, and Integration.

As important as the “right foot” forward, we should recall the words of Richard Harvey, in Plaine Perceuall the peace-maker of England, 1590, who was the first to record the antonymic “wrong foot” phrase in print:

           “Thou putst the wrong foote before.” [2]

 Remember,

“People are hard to hate close up, so move in” –Brené Brown in Braving the Wilderness, 2017

[1] Sequoyah was a Cherokee silversmith who created a written language for the Cherokee nation in 1821 to encourage literacy among his people. Soon the literacy rate among Cherokees was higher than surrounding European-American settlers. The initiative resulted in similar initiatives in Canada, Liberia, and China. Today there are some 21 scripts, used for over 65 languages.

[2] https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/150300.html

 

Bob Meroney is a Senior Research Scientist/Scholar and Emeritus Professor in Civil Engineering at Colorado State University. He has been an active member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club and regularly researches a range of topics on modern life, issues and politics that serve to spark deeper conversations among friends and colleagues.

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