The O’Toole Chronicles: Teaching Them at a Young Age
Growing up in a crowded house – with seven children, two parents, and at one point an aunt and uncle living in the basement – presented countless daily challenges. Sit around the breakfast table, tune in to a TV program (with only one TV in the house), ration phone minutes (in the bygone era of landlines and long distance calls), finding the right unclaimed garment or sneaking around, and grabbing anytime alone were the normal tests of the day.
As a child with so many siblings, we used our voices – constantly and usually in low tones – but were taught not to question authority. When we were encouraged to speak up, we were told to speak calmly, be respectful, and keep our opinions to ourselves. This philosophy, however, seems outdated. In fact, we should be teaching the next generation of today to the contrary. We need to encourage our children to speak freely and want to be heard. In other words, we need to inspire children not only to find their voice, but also to speak freely and honestly.
I have written in the past about the next generation, and some of the thoughts I have expressed can be considered critical of today’s youth. On the other hand, and in fairness to the children of today, many of the challenges they face are far greater than those that my generation faces. Most of us cannot imagine what teens are facing today.
Indeed, peer pressure and the ubiquitous, but misleading, social media messages about how one should act or appear are detrimental to personal work and distort reality, imposing unrealistic expectations on our children when they are. the most impressionable and the most susceptible. to the wrong message. Meeting oversized expectations is something that creates unnecessary additional worry and can have significant negative consequences. Children today are exposed to huge and complex community and social issues on a daily basis, and they must be equipped to engage, speak out and be heard. Parents need to recognize these challenges and provide a balance.
It is essential that every child knows that they have a voice, that it matters, and that the strength of their voice can and should be used to help others and to effect positive change. Simply put, our children should be given the tools and reinforcement from all of us to speak out and be heard. Our future may depend on it.
Some of my favorite times in the Legislature were when young people came to testify before a committee or speak to lawmakers on the floor of the Senate or the Assembly. The emotion on the faces of lawmakers, some of whom I barely saw smile, was evident. They were clearly moved every time a child spoke. Everytime.
I remember seeing Rocco, a young student from South Jersey testifying before the Assembly Budget Committee (several years in a row) about the need to fund braille in our schools. Rocco was incredibly efficient, and every time he testified you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
I remember seeing Jason from Bergen County (with his parents Diane and Jason) come to Trenton to speak so clearly about the needs of some of our people with special needs. Jason moved the whole room, and he helped bring about real change.
I recently learned of a special effort to help the younger generation find their voice. My dear friend Matt Eventoff trains senior managers on communication and public speaking during the day and volunteers doing the same with at-risk young adults at night. He, along with co-author Thomas Ray Garcia, recently put together the first in a series of free children’s books, Mute, and an illustrated novel, Speak
Without fear. The idea behind both was to create free materials to help every child, regardless of their economic situation or status, find their voice and learn to use it. They make all the resources free at www.speakwithstylebooks.com. There is no registration requirement, no email address collection, no fee. Simply connect and download. To be clear, no one is making money from this effort – everything is given.
I love the story behind Mute, published first in Spanish and then in English, shows children where English is spoken at home as a second language that their voice matters as much as anyone else’s. Eight-year-old Amelia Martinez is terrified of giving a speech at the Grand Oratory. However, when the intolerant Mr. Rhetorick steals the village voices, Amelia must use her public speaking skills to save Voz from eternal silence. In her quest, Amelia gains confidence at every turn, from speaking to forest animals to finding her own voice.
I heard that Assembly Anthony Verrelli provided hundreds of copies to teachers and students in Trenton. Chris Paladino and the DEVCO team did the same in Paterson. Marc Cinque and the team at Premio Foods are doing the exact same thing in Hawthorne and Union City. People are starting to do this in towns from Pleasantville to Atlantic City. And many, many more across the United States. In addition, a certain Cedar Grove law firm will make a major effort in Newark to provide these learning tools. We have also ordered hundreds of copies for Mayor Brian Stack in Union City.
More of us are more engaged. More of us need to promote this idea and help make these vital resources available to help children find their voice.
There is a rule of thumb for holding an elected mandate: helping those who don’t always know they have a voice. Moreover, helping the most vulnerable among us – our children – to find their voice is as noble a goal as can be found. Work is underway, but there is still a lot to do.
Let me close by addressing our 120 lawmakers – the next time you stand up and pontificate in committee on a bill, or make a comment, consider bringing a youth from your district to the hall instead. committee. Let them talk and guess who the audience remembers.