Snowflakes Were Not Raised in a Vacuum

I was born in 1980, the eldest of all wimpy Millennials by some measures, so I feel some responsibility to respond to the critiques leveled upon the overly sensitive, politically correct twenty-somethings. The adults who raised my generation either personally knew or personally knew someone involved Vietnam, Korea, or WWII. The adults in my life knew the draft. The adults in my life were the first to grow up routinely seeing images of genocide, chemical warfare, and nuclear war. They were the first to see war televised. They were the first to grapple with humanity’s newfound capability to destroy the Earth with the press of a few buttons. Is there any question why they wanted to my generation to learn to respect and befriend people from other cultures and backgrounds? Or why they might have wanted us to become experts at conflict resolution from an early age?

As I begin to educate my own children, I am beginning to fully appreciate the effort that these adults put into teaching my generation to have compassion, be good citizens, and become peacemakers. In preschool, we learned empathy, watched Mr. Rogers, and sang “It’s a Small World” at our end of the year performance. In kindergarten, we sang “We are the World.” The last day of elementary school, we sang a rousing rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” complete with some less than impressive dance moves. In middle school, we read Frederick Douglas and Anne Frank. In high school, we had Elie Weisel, Kurt Vonnegut, and a semester devoted to Vietnam-era writers. History class brought personal letters from the Civil War and first-hand accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima. We learned about suffrage and civil rights. We learned that students with disabilities wouldn’t have been in school with us a generation earlier.

The primary message I received from my mainstream, Midwestern, public school education is that peace is inseparable from understanding. Understanding tends to bring with it inclusion. My deepest fear, as inclusion has been politicized and portrayed as a weapon in the battle against “traditional values,” is that understanding and peacemaking will be next in the line of fire. There is nothing weak about our generation’s desire to be peaceful and inclusive. These are values borne out of war.