Confusing Safety with Comfort


My son insists on learning to tie water balloons, even when it's clear that he can't get it right. He keeps trying and I keep watching him fail. Eventually, he gives up and walks inside, his face streaming with tears. The next day, he repeats this process. He shows no progress and I fight the urge to step in. Finally, on the third day, he finishes it.

It is uncomfortable, but it is safe.

Yesterday, we went to the park. It was already ninety-two degrees with sixty percent humidity. We brought water and we played hard. I paid close attention to their body language. I don't take heat exhaustion lightly. However, they handled the temperature well. At times, I wanted to jump in the car and drive back to our air-conditioned living room. Still, we played.

It was uncomfortable, but it was safe.

My son asks me why the Disney Channel t.v. shows always have a character who is a nerd and why the audience always laughs at the nerd instead of helping him out. He tells me that in his classroom, nerds don't get laughed at. They get ignored. He explains that he is friends with the nerds, because he likes how they think, but he's afraid to become "real" friends with the nerds, because he'll become a nerd himself. I feel helpless in this conversation, but I ask and I listen.

It is uncomfortable, but it is safe.

People talk about our neighborhood with coded racist language. It's "on the decline" and the "demographics are changing." I hear about how the "school has changed since I went there" and how "the dynamics are different." I've watched neighbors pull their kids out of a high-performing neighborhood school to go to charter schools three or four miles north of us. I consistently get the advice to take my sons out of a "rough" school and into a "better" school in the district. The truth is that the cultural conflict that exists around us makes us uncomfortable at times. And yet . . .

It is uncomfortable, but is safe.

All of this has me thinking that culturally, we too often confuse safety with comfort. As a dad, I don't want my kids to have a comfortable childhood. I want them to be in spaces that are uncomfortably intellectually, socially, personally, physically and culturally. True, I want them to be safe, but I know that sometimes the most dangerous place to be is a place for false comfort. And it has me thinking that maybe our schools need to be a little bit safer and a little less comfortable.

photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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