Because the stakes are high.
Our children are navigating a world where intolerance, rage, intimidation, extremism, and aggression are on constant display — whether towards a person with a disability, or someone whose religion or race is different from theirs. How do children make sense of what they see and what some of them may even experience? Swastikas found at Reading High School. Charlottesville. Barcelona.
On the surface those examples may appear removed from UD’s mission, but are they really that different from someone ridiculing a person with a disability at school?
How will these hurtful acts affect our children? Certainly some will be afraid. Some will try to hide the thing about them that is different. Will some copy the aggression? Will some feel diminished or less than equal? Will some turn fearful, isolated, lonely, sad? Worse?
We need Understanding Disabilities because of its message that we are all the same inside. Children get this message. We see an aha moment in them when we point out that all people share similar desires: family, friends, to do your best, to make a difference in the world. Children understand these commonalities, and that they can help bridge differences. We need UD because it explains the harsh and intolerant behaviors kids witness. We need UD because UD is a positive step and a positive discussion that we as parents and families and teachers and caring adults can have with children. We need UD to help offset intolerance.
UD is making a difference. A 2013 Endicott College study shows that children in Reading have a much more positive attitude toward people with disabilities than peers without a disability awareness program. The study proves what we have known all along: Reading students engage in UD classes and they apply the lessons to their lives.
Your children are brilliant. They extend their UD understanding to all differences, not just those involving a disability. We hear remarkable stories such as kids working collaboratively on a group project, inviting all their classmates to their birthday party, and using UD language to bridge a misunderstanding.
Further to go:
These stories bring home the importance of UD’s message. But we know we can do more.
That’s why UD created a new curriculum. The new lessons, which we are fully implementing in Reading schools this year, include teaching about Respect in addition to teaching about Understanding and Compassion. Something wonderful and sustaining happens when compassion stems from the belief that all people are important and deserving of a better situation. Its value extends far beyond the obvious benefit of a person’s receiving help. The helpers also feel good, and, in the long-term these actions lead to the healthy environments that educators, sociologists, and parents know students need to thrive in school today and in society tomorrow.
There is intolerance in our world. For the sake of our children’s tomorrows, let’s work together to end it.
UD offers experience of thirty-plus years, a new curriculum, and new “UD at Home” webpages. We are honored to support families and teachers in guiding children toward healthy and positive interactions.