Arizona Republic
April 15, 2008


Author: Marlene Pontrelli Maerowitz, Special for The Republic

Gilbert schools are once again front-page news. This time, it has nothing to do with the Devil Dogs. Rather, the news stems from accusations that minority students are treated differently than some Whites.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education claiming that Black students who complain about racist behavior receive little or no response.

Students have complained about racial slurs being hurled at them on school buses, and having to read for certain parts in school plays based upon the color of their skin. School officials have responded by denouncing such behavior and announcing that stricter policies will be developed.

While such policies are good and obviously necessary, the solution should not have to come just from the schools. There are additional things we should be doing as parents. One suggestion comes from Kelly Chilcott, a parent with four children in the Gilbert School District. Chilcott was reared working in her family's trading post on a Navajo reservation. As a result, she grew up appreciating the artwork of Native Americans and developed a deeper *nderstanding of Native American culture.

''We're afraid of the word diversity,'' she says. ''We tend to think that diversity means condoning all kinds of lifestyles.'' Chilcott believes that what we need to learn is not tolerance of our diverse differences, but appreciation for all of our colors.

Accordingly, Chilcott has worked with her children's school by bringing in artists from a variety of cultures in an effort to give the children a greater *nderstanding. ''All through history we have learned about people through their art.'' Art is one way, Kelly believes, we can fight hatred at a young age.

This past year, Kelly worked with Gilbert in hosting the ''Walk in Beauty'' dedication, the first in a series of Gilbert's Millennium celebrations. ''Walk in Beauty'' was a pathway of 2000 footprints of students, teachers and community members patterned after a Navajo poem. The purpose was to teach children art in different cultures.

Taking advantage of the rich cultural diversity we have in Gilbert is another way we can help teach young people to appreciate all people, regardless of color. We are fortunate to have living in Gilbert Masu Issifu, chief of the Mamprusi Tribe in Ghana. His children also attend Gilbert schools. When he speaks with children at the schools he talks of how children must respect themselves so that they can respect others. Teaching children from the time they are very young how to respect themselves and their abilities is part of his culture in Ghana. It is a universal lesson that should know no color barrier.

Addressing racist behavior has to start at a young age, because otherwise we are condemned by people's attitudes as adults. However, we shouldn't be looking solely to the schools to solve a problem that we can solve within our own homes. The solution needs to start in the home, with the parents, and before children start school. Because it doesn't get any better when these children become ''adults.''

As part of my job responsibilities for Tempe, I spend a few days each month teaching classes on ''Civil Treatment'' in the workplace. And Tempe is not alone. Hundreds of companies, in Maricopa County alone, spend thousands of dollars each year to ''educate'' their employees in similar classes. Thousands of dollars spent by employers to educate their employees on simple rules that should not have to be taught in the first place. Simple rules designed to ''teach'' us how to respect each other in the workplace. Such classes are needed because if children do not learn these rules from their parents at home, employers are forced to teach the rules to them as adults once they are in the workforce.

The rules aren't difficult. In fact, they are overly simplistic. Rule No. 1 pretty much says it all: ''Guard your words and your actions.'' A lot of trouble can be avoided if people just learn when not to speak.

But, just in case that proves to be too difficult to understand, maybe we need to take some lessons from some of the more popular children's videos. Here's a simple rule that we should be teaching our children every day, and it comes straight from a little rabbit named Thumper: ''If you can't say something nice about someone, then don't say anything at all.''

Edition: Final
Section: Chandler Community
Page: 4
Record Number: pho60357442