Excerpts from Kirp's Learning by Heart: AIDS and schoolchildren in America's Communities.
Kirp's book describes experiences of children in communities, large and small, caught in the interface of school and HIV infection, from 1985 to 1987. The children were Black, White, and Latino, of preschool to high school age, of diverse parental circumstances, and involved with HIV infection congenitally, sexually, or from blood replacement products. The stories of David, Jamie, Marcus, Mark, Ndebe, both Ryans, and two unnamed children contribute an essential background to the survey and "Guidelines." The alarming aspects of HIV infection can threaten opportunities for best personal progress for affected children. The following commentary by Kirp (excerpted from Learning by Heart) documents the dynamics, the stakes, and often the fulfillment in this personal dilemma.
Leadership on AIDS poses tasks of surpassing difficulty. No obvious language of belonging -- a language that includes and does not segregate -- cuts across all the familiar lines of fragmentation, race and class and sexual preference. No readily discernible set of ideas held in common enbraces isolated villages like Ocilla |Georgia~, freeway outposts like Atascadero |California~, and megacities like New York. Yet at moments in our history, we have put aside our differences to address economic depression and technological progress and civil rights in terms that AIDS also demands: as a transforming issue, a national cause that requires national leadership.
In the early years, the HIV epidemic posed an intense and immediate challenge to citizens concerned with school policy. According to Kirp,
The most open of the public conversations about AIDS prompted people to speak in terms of public values -- caring and risk -- and to test their sentiments against the realities others introduced. When they talked self-consciously about their own community, when they used words like compassion and decency, they moved beyond artifice or script -- for when individuals express themselves this way, they can have a powerful effect on how their neighbors, and how they themselves think.
Public conversations are hardly immune to the closed mind or the appeal to unreason. But when, amidst all the posturing and venting and emoting, people rediscover the meaning of concern for others in these "new contexts of association and moral cohesion," then remarkable things happen. It exaggerates, but not by much, to describe a neighbor as "a stranger transformed by empathy and shared interests into a friend." The newly minted neighborly affection and the skills of citizenship developed in these forums transcend the particular and seem likely to last much longer than the inflated civic pride that, say, a World Series championship momentarily brings. This kind of conversation builds trust among those who participate by acknowledging the gift of their own goodness, even as it builds solidarity and communal competence. And those lessons get passed on to the children, in the classroom, and around the dinner table. The new field was obliged to establish its own credibility, reference frames, and discursive domains.
The AIDS issue called upon the talents of different kinds of experts -- to help unravel its scientific complexities, to sift out the questions of risk, and to parse the meanings of empathy. If communities were going to learn about AIDS, they required rational leadership, doctors who knew their science and could make it comprehensible, experts with the patience to ease people away from their dread. They needed organizer-leaders to keep the talk going, to appeal for forbearance -- to stay calm in tense times. And they depended on moral leadership, trusted authorities who, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a century ago, "teach us the qualities of primary nature, admit us to the constitution of things." The men and women who rose to the occasion -- school principals and politicians, journalists and doctors and priests, superintendents and citizen-advocates -- put themselves on the line, articulating both the pragmatics and the rightness of fellow feeling.
Allen C. Crocker, MD, Director, Developmental Evaluation Center, Children's Hospital, 300 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115; and David L. Kirp, LLB, Graduate School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, 2607 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, CA 94720.
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|Title Annotation:||Professor of Public Policy David L. Kirp|
|Author:||Crocker, Allen C.|
|Publication:||Journal of School Health|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1994|
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