NAEYC Conference Highlights
Conference Theme – “The Power of the Profession”
Opening Keynote by Ruby Bridges
Do you know who Ruby Bridges is? I didn’t until Wednesday, November 18th 2015.
Ruby Bridges was the opening keynote speaker at this year’s National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.
In her address she reminded us that forbidding education to anyone is not politically correct. In fact, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child mentions it. She retold her story, connecting it with a story of a little slave boy.
“Never teach a nigger to read because if you do you’ll give him an inch and he’ll want to take a yard.”
As the story goes, the little boy realized that his secret reading lessons with the white slave owner’s wife was his direct way out of slavery after he had already learnt to read against the wishes of the master. Of course, this was the story of Frederick Douglass, who got an inch and who took the yard.
Ruby tied this story with her own personal challenge of being the first African American student to attend William Frantz Public School. I listened to her tell of how teachers resigned their positions after she started school and how she was escorted by armed US Marshalls in school in November 1960. I imagined her being frightened, overwhelmed, downright afraid but listening to her speak about her teacher, Mrs. Henry, who came all the way from Boston and who took the job despite all the opposition made me realize the power of comfort that this teacher was able to provide.
Of course she stressed just how much Mrs. Henry looked like the other teachers who had left, but in truth she was nothing like them. “She was different.” She became Ruby’s best friend. Still alive today, Ruby and her are still in touch and are in fact best friends.
Ruby encouraged us not to look at a person and judge. Instead we ought to judge him by the content of his character. Ruby learnt that very poignant lesson at the tender age of 6. She was a first grader.
The fact is that our (educators’) role in the lives of children and in schools, is so very important. Today, our children are faced with many mores challenges than those Ruby faced in 1960. We never know who that one special child will be and the power we can have on that child. This is the power of the profession.
Ruby’s calm but passionate demeanor throughout her speech and literally brought me to tears.
Today we celebrate Universal Children’s Day and I want to reiterate that importance of a child’s right to a good education. Let us ensure that our schools and our communities are equipped with the best teachers, the best resources and policies to support teachers and parents so that we can always give our children what they deserve: the best.