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Third graders at RMMS want to own their words

New London — My life's vocation is not about sports. The words are often about them, sure. But really, I'm about owning my words — and preferring that you own yours, too. I don't do anonymity. Here is what Mikey D has to say. There is his hideous column logo. No ambiguity whatsoever.

And a bunch of third graders taught me an inspiring lesson last week: That we are hardwired to own our words from a young age. We want the world to know who we are and what we think. It's just that adults are better at teaching shortcuts than encouraging the open exchange of ideas sometimes.

I volunteer in my son's class at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School. I help them with reading and writing, tell bad jokes, listen to them, encourage them and make them laugh at all cost. Their recent writing assignment offered a lesson all of us should heed.

My son's teacher, the great Candy Bartsch, happened upon a recent story about DeAndre Arnold, a high school kid in suburban Houston, who wears dreadlocks to honor his family's heritage from Trinidad. Arnold wears his dreads up during the school day so as not to violate the school's dress code for boys, whose hair may not go past their shoulders.

School officials, however, informed Arnold that if he did not cut his hair, he would not be able to walk across the stage during graduation. This did not compute with the kids of RMMS who are taught to respect all cultures and their customs. "Besides," as one of the kids wrote, "it's just hair!"

It was decided that the kids would write letters to the principal at Barbers (no pun intended) Hill High School, Board of Education members in Mont Belvieu, Texas and even DeAndre himself, expressing their opinions.

Now for the best part: After a few rough drafts, the final products were due last week. Mrs. Candy read them — they were very thoughtful and some quite direct — but changed some words to convey the messages without as much snark. So much for kids not getting sarcasm at that age. Some of this stuff was priceless.

I mean, this is the kind of story that inspires outrage. I might have gone for snarky myself. Like conjuring the image of Lady Liberty forsaking her pose with the torch and instead hitting a few of those dopes upside the head with it.

I was in charge of helping the kids write their final draft. And some of them were vexed — downright infuriated — that Mrs. Candy dared change their words. They wanted to own them. I tried explaining that different writing assignments call for different words and tones. They had none of it. This was their opinion. Their name. Their words.

I nearly wept tears of joy.

How many of us — well older and allegedly more mature — have taken to hiding behind anonymity now to express ourselves? It's the height of gutlessness. And I believe my son and his friends just taught me that failure to own your words is a learned behavior.

There was a certain innocence in their outrage. Forget that they wanted to roast the administration and tell DeAndre himself to hold firm. And then when someone dared change their words, they wanted to use their words to defend themselves. Face to face.

And somewhere, the framers are going, "Yes! Yes! This is what we meant! Not Twitter!"

This is what school ought to be. I know that fourth-graders at RMMS have written letters about climate change. First-graders, studying plastic pollution, convinced former LEARN director Dr. Eileen Howley to get rid of all plastic silverware and use metal utensils instead.

None of us need agree with the premise of the outrage. The idea is that RMMS is teaching kids to stand up for what they believe in — and not care who knows it. I love it. And so should journalists — real ones, anyway — everywhere.

Applause for Mrs. Candy, International Baccalaureate coach Lynne Ramage, principal Mariana Reyes and all of my son's friends who taught old Mr. Mike a lesson last week.

We could learn a lot from our kids, you know.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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