Oak Park schools would benefit from Peace Jam

Opinion: Columns

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By Katie Wilkie

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Kids are the future, and regardless of which "side" you're on in politics, we are seeing strong opinions from children making headlines. I recently read an inspiring article by a neighbor in Oak Park, comparing the "school-to-prison" pipeline for black kids, and what she described as the "school-to-politics" pipeline for white kids. 

I have worked in charter schools that claimed to be the best for the black kids on the South and West sides of the city and have seen firsthand the way they are treated like prisoners. Those kids, especially the boys, were "bad" if they didn't get in line — literally and emotionally. 

I am certain that what the author wrote is true, and that we (I am white) are also conditioned from childhood to expect privileges and to give privileges because I can't even imagine a white school like some of the charter schools in the city. 

As a speech therapist, I know children recognize when things are unfair — and we all know they certainly bring it up. I personally feel they don't need to be taught what "fair" is, but the problem arises when the adults "correct" them and un-teach fair. The author is hopeful that we can take on the privilege of white schools and remove the inherent lessons of entitlement that we teach. 

I might have a suggestion for our little corner of the world that doesn't require us to reinvent the wheel, and is affordable, global, and lauded. I'm sorry I didn't suggest it sooner. The program is called "Peace Jam" and they have a curriculum to teach actions toward peace and tolerance in schools. When I was in college in St. Paul, Minnesota, I was part of our on-campus activist groups and participated in an on-campus conference with Peace Jam hosting Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum. It was inspiring and everyone walked away from it feeling empowered. 

Peace Jam can certainly speak for itself through its website, www.peacejam.org, and I encourage everyone to check it out. This program connects youth to 13 Nobel Peace Prize laureates to have direct conversations about Compassion in Action and builds a platform to motivate real action projects for youth to build equality and tolerance. They have curricula for literacy, civics, project-based learning, mentorship, and anti-bullying. 

I think Oak Park would be perfect for these programs as I see a community eager for tangible, tried-and-true solutions for our kids. I care about kids, I have built a career to help those who can't communicate to have a voice, and I regret not thinking of bringing this program to my hometown sooner. 

Activism these days is a lot of discussion with relatively little action, but I see the young people really doing and taking immediate and bold actions. Sometimes they are braver than we are, thank goodness, and I hope we can give them the tools that bring more good into the world.

Katie Wilkie is a speech therapist and an Oak Park resident.

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