Alex Kotlowitz is one of my favorite non-fiction writers.
He wrote a remarkable book in 1992 titled There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America.
It’s the story of Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, 11- and 9-year-old brothers growing up in the Henry Horner housing projects in the inner city of Chicago.
I was so moved by the story, I visited Henry Horner when I was in Chicago to try and meet some of the people in the book.
Kotlowitz calls his work “the journalism of empathy” because he tries to stand in the shoes of his subjects as he is writing about them. He writes to help his readers stand in his subjects’ shoes.
I hope I do that kind of writing. I hope I do that kind of teaching. I hope I do that kind of living.
I try to stand in the shoes of my students as I am teaching them. I try to help them stand in each others’ shoes, too.
So, I might call my work “the writing of empathy” and “the teaching of empathy.”
Last year, I wore a hoodie to school that has “Be Kind” on the front of it.
One day, my quiet student, the quietest student I have ever taught, wore a t-shirt with “Be Kind” on the front of it.
She was trying to stand in my shoes! (Or my hoodie, rather!)
By the way, that morning one of the loudest students I have ever taught asked, “Mr. Barton, no offense, but what kind of shoes are those?”
I answered, “They’re Birkenstock shoes. They’re wide and comfortable and they’re good shoes for me because I’m on my feet all day.”
He looked at them with raised eyebrows and said, “Mmm hmm. You know they look like clown shoes, don’t you?”
I’m not trying to start any fashion trends at my elementary school.
But my quiet student bought a “Be Kind” shirt because she wanted to be kind like me.
That’s the kind of trend I’m trying to start.
Focusing on teaching and nurturing kindness among the students and staff at one elementary school in South Carolina might seem small compared to the problems facing our nations and our world.
Yet, drop by drop, the bucket is filled. Kindness by kindness, hearts are changed. Small act by small act, the arc of the moral universe is bent toward creating a better, more human world for everyone.
A fourth grade public school teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.