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Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.


I have been disheartened by the news this week. Bombs. Murder. Hate. Like many, I wonder how I would react if I was the target. What would I do?

I am a white woman. I grew up in a predominantly middle-class, white neighborhood. Growing up, my friends looked like me and came from similar backgrounds. I was raised to be kind, think of others, and do my best. I learned these lessons from my parents through their own actions and deeds. Somewhere, I also learned the valuable lessons of listening and empathy.

I remember when a black family moved into our neighborhood. Darlene and I became friends. She was funny, smart, and good-natured. I was amazed at her athletic ability, which is something I totally lacked. I still drive by Darlene’s old house and wonder whatever happened to her.

While other kids were going to California, our family vacations were camping in Mexico. Some of my favorite memories are around our time there, whether it was Rocky Point, Guaymas, the Baja Peninsula, or Cabo San Lucas. There is, and always will be, a warm spot in my heart for the country and its people.

I was exposed to other ethnicities and religions, as a teacher. I found myself at more than one bar and bat mitzvah. I remember loving the ceremony and celebration around the milestone. Raised in the Lutheran faith, I found beauty in Judaism — a faith that emphasized education, care, and compassion. More importantly, I learned that each religion has value and a deep set of beliefs that needed the same level of respect as my own.

Last summer, the Arizona K12 Center Teacher Leadership Institute welcomed 45 teachers from Saudi Arabia. The first day and a half, the visiting group of teachers sat by themselves, but by the end of the second day, you couldn’t distinguish them from the Arizona educators who were present. At the end of the three days, after everyone had gone home, I sat in an empty ballroom wondering how to create more learning opportunities where diverse groups of people could come together for a common goal.

It is hard to hate people after you have a chance to get to know them.

I don’t know where hate takes root. I believe it comes from a place of fear and ignorance. Fear. Hatred. Division. I look back at this week and this year; I wonder what brought us to this point. Bombs sent to elected officials and prominent Americans. Gunfire and murder in a synagogue. The social media space of the person behind this mayhem showcases a hatred for refugees. When I read the names of the 11 people who were murdered on Saturday and discovered they were all elderly my heart broke and tears welled up in my eyes. It appears that the young and elderly are our most vulnerable. Again, how did we get here?

In August, my mother was hospitalized with a serious illness. She spent two weeks in the hospital with one week in the intensive care. As she lay in her hospital bed heavily sedated, unaware of what was going on around her, I observed the medical professionals who were tending to her care. Her critical care physician was Jewish. Her lung doctor was of Middle Eastern descent. Her neurologist was Lebanese. Her pulmonary specialist was Hispanic. The countless people in and out of her room, all dedicated to her care, represented the best of what our world has to offer — the best in what America has to offer.

If you never get out of your bubble and spend your time watching television and engaging in social media, you miss out on the best of what the world has to offer. I am certainly not defending what these men did, but I believe if you only engage with people like you, your world never expands. If you don’t take the time to listen, you never learn. And, if you don’t take the time to learn and understand, you never grow.

We cannot tolerate hate. There is no way we are going to change the minds of those where hate has taken over, but we must create schools and classrooms that celebrate all of our children. Each child in our schools needs to know they matter and bring value to the world. Our diversity is what makes us truly great. We are a nation of immigrants and this truly is our greatest asset.

1 Comment

  • Victoria Perkins says:

    Thank you for this Dr. Wiebke. This story is so important to hear. We need to share these stories of diversity and oneness. Especially in this time of divide among our country. Our marginalized populations of citizens are feeling like they don’t belong. There are many times I don’t feel like I belong being a woman and being an individual with a disability. This country has a lot of rebuilding to do. Thank you for always learning and growing so, the AZ K12 Center can be everything we need it to be. Your center is one of the reasons I’m proud to be an educator. I appreciate you and everything you and your staff do. Please continue to look for those opportunities to engage in multiculturalism practice for our students and for us as educators and as people of the world. My bubble has been broken for many years and everytime it starts to form again I watch for those people like your mother’s amazing caregivers, doctors, and nurses. Or the refugees that come to our school looking for us to be their safe place. We need to be that place for them. I won’t be led into hate even for those that hate. Please know I will be there for any possible help with getting more diversity opportunities available. I love what you stand for.

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