On Saturday mornings you will usually find me hanging out at Ebenezer Stone Ministries. Located on 35th and Scott in Milwaukee, ESM serves a hot breakfast to a community struggling to provide for their family’s basic needs. We also have a food pantry, sponsored by the Hunger Task Force, which serves the 53215 area code.
Last Saturday, I arrived early and was the first in the pantry. We had just received a shipment of fresh produce from Just One More, a local agency that specializes in reallocating unwanted or leftover food to various places around Milwaukee. Since it was my weekend to help out in the Pantry, I began to put the food away. As I was just about finished a fellow volunteer stopped by.
He examined my work with a slight scowl on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he simply shrugged and stated that the other guy who usually performs this particular task does it differently.
I then explained to him Palzewism #89
Different is Not Wrong!
I use this Palzewism almost daily at school. I teach students with special needs for Milwaukee Public Schools. I have been doing this for over 20 years, but there is a part of my job that never gets old. When I meet a student, they are usually accompanied by a large manilla folder that indicates what they cannot do as well as “Normal” students. (My Son, Joey’s Palzewism is that “Normal is just a setting on a Dryer!”). The information in this folder has been collected by a variety of professionals over the course of this students educational lifetime and, as I found out, is relatively useless. How many of us brag of what we cannot accomplish?
I want to know three things about my students. First, I want to know what they can do right now, no matter how small. Can a nonverbal student point to an answer on paper? Can a paraplegic move her eyes to indicate yes or no? Can the Child who is deaf sense tapping vibrations on his desk? I have learned that every person has a skill set, no matter how small. My biggest thrill is discovering that tiny way they are different and letting others know how to reach that student. I remember the relief on one Mom’s face when I discovered that her son took over a full minute to process conversation. For example, I would ask him something and then had to be quiet for about 70 seconds. If I asked him again before that time was up, he would have to start processing the question from the beginning again. But if I waited the full time, he could answer the question correctly. Mom was ecstatic because now she could communicate with her son!.
Second, I want to know what the student plans to do after High School. What are their dreams? What Job do they want? Where and with who do they want to live? This is important because I can’t just make decisions for them based on my own experiences or their parent’s wishes. I need to discover what would let them live the best life possible.
The last thing I want to know is what do we (School) have to do to help him get there. My students may live quite differently than the rest of us but are entitled to the same quality of life that we enjoy.
Unfortunately, society views differences differently (pun intended). Ideas, beliefs, processes, procedures should all resemble what I as an individual am accustomed to having. For example, I have heard some say that people in our country need to speak English, but if they travel overseas, they expect English there as well. And it is not just big ideas, but also petty things. I have been looked down upon because I don’t Barbecue every Sunday or change the oil in my own car!
In Genesis 1:25, God shows us his plans for diversity! “And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” If God created such diversity among plants and animals, how much more so did he create among us as well!
Different, when you come down to it, is really the backbone of this country. Remember learning about the “Melting Pot” metaphor for the United States that we learned in grade school and SchoolHouse Rock? Well, that’s not exactly accurate. A melting pot for our society would mean that all the inhabitants of the United States would become assimilated into the ideal American. We would all think, act and basically be the same. I actually thank God that is not the case! The life that my Wife and I have created for is far different from others we know and we are ok with that fact.
Some say that our country is really a salad bowl, a number of different ingredients tossed together to make something new. Each individual or group adds their unique “flavor” to the dish, increasing the value of the dish. In the same way, each individual’s uniqueness makes us better as a whole.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal! (Yes, “men” means “persons”). Our country used to see value from the different perspectives of others. Many ideas were considered healthy and vital to our growth as a people. We would vote, implement and fine-tune those ideas of merit that appealed to the greater good.
Today, it seems we spend too much time highlighting the differences between people and groups. Some ideas are discarded simply because of who brought them up. Instead of celebrating differences, we seem to revile them!
Logically, if we all have equal value, so do our thoughts, lifestyles, and preferences. In other words “Different is not wrong!”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for not making me like everyone else and vice-versa. Thank you for the strengths I discovered about myself and those weaknesses that have caused me to seek out help. Help me to always see issues through the lens of others. Amen