Monday, January 4, 2016

Hope/Despair Challenge

Recently The Atlantic posted an article entitled “Will America Ever Fix Its Schools?” It focuses on education experts’ reasons for hope and despair as we move into the new year. Rob Miller, whom I greatly respect, then issued a challenge and wrote the perfect introduction to that challenge.

As I tend toward practical realism, which some interpret as pessimism, I’ll do my best with the “hope” section. Unfortunately, after the last couple of years as I strive to become even more socially conscious (and active) and deal with lupus (which is kicking my butt since the weather keeps changing), my heart and soul feel incredibly burdened. So, I apologize ahead of time, but maybe this will act cathartically for me.  

I’ve already written a couple blogs about my heart for equity, especially in schools (“Stop Pretending” challenge and “My Epiphany”). I will attempt to not repeat myself, but maybe repetition is what America needs. That constant drip…drip…drip…of the leaky faucet until we actually get out of our damn metaphorical beds and fix our issues.

Soooo, I despair we will ever become a nation where everyone is treated as equal. Hell, I despair we will ever be a nation where everyone is seen and treated as human beings. Sadly, this carries into our classrooms and is overtly and covertly taught to our children. We are a nation where teachers can dress up as stereotypes (an example here and here) with little-to-no regard for their students’ feelings. We justify these incidents as harmless jokes or all in good fun. When you lack respect for your students and their families, you think their culture and ideas are fodder for jokes. When you cannot see the basic humanity of your students and their families, you should stay as far away from any type of education as you can. Please, just stop perpetuating your idiocy and bigotry. Stay out of the way of those of us actually trying to improve society and educate ALL children. Even better, why not just move to Antarctica? I’m okay with you being a bigot there.

I despair America even wants to bring equity to schools. I’ve stated it before, but education opens minds and makes students question (if it’s done right). Educated citizens are dangerous citizens because they critically examine their world, find flaws, and search for solutions.

Critical citizens would see
1. our disappearing middle class, the disparity in classes, the minority of obscenely wealthy becoming stupidly rich by using loop-holes and buying politicians. (Seriously, how much money does one person really need? How many cars and square feet of house does one need?)
2. racism, sexism, classism, and every type of “ism” prevalent, nay, built into the foundation of our society. Our country was built on the subjugation of others—on their blood, sweat, tears, bodies, humanity. Learn your history, people. Maybe then we can stop repeating those gruesome mistakes and start to change for the better.   
3. all this talk of failing schools and higher standards and testing and funding and privatization and technology and STEM and learning styles and college costs and PISA scores on and on…they’re all distractions, red herrings to divert and splinter us from fighting the true enemies of systemic ignorance and bigotry. If we SAW and CARED about every single student, we would make education a priority in America.

If we truly cared, we would make sure each student had highly qualified teachers in each classroom in each school. Teachers who were prepared and excited to meet the needs of each student. We would provide each student with technology. We wouldn’t need standards because we would want every single child to be educated and to reach his/her potential. We would encourage playing and creativity and art and music. We wouldn’t focus on testing because we would finally realize all standardized tests (including the stupid ACT/SAT/AP tests) are written for wealthy white children. We wouldn’t worry about competing with other countries on the asinine PISA because we would sleep soundly knowing we were doing right by each child. We would make sure each of our babies was fed, clothed, sheltered, nurtured, loved.

With all this “despair,” why bother even getting up each morning? I can tell you why in two words: my students. I currently teach 10th traditional and 11th grade AP English. Each day, the alarm goes off about 6:00 am, and while I am NOT a morning person, I drag myself out of bed because of the shining moments in my teaching. 

From the beginning of my teaching career, I have fought ignorance and apathy. In general, students have not been taught to care about and actively work toward their education (they’ve been trained to focus on grades). But over the years, I have seen students discover a hunger for knowledge. Students who realize education doesn’t just happen in a classroom. Students whose minds are opened to new ideas and possibilities. Students who come to understand they can entertain those ideas without actually accepting them. Students who learn to question everything, even me. I love watching that spark ignite, catch, and begin to smolder. If I’m lucky (usually the years I looped), I get to see those embers fan into a flame…and grow and spread.

Those students give me hope because they learn to look at the status quo, and their already rebellious natures (sometimes rebellion is good), make them balk at it. I cannot adequately express my joy in teaching them and pushing them. They truly are the future, which makes me more optimistic. Sometimes they can make me forget my fear or worry about tomorrow, for I glimpse tomorrow in each of their faces; I hear tomorrow in their voices and answers; I see tomorrow in their work. 
When you ask me what gives me hope for 2016, I can confidently answer with two words: my students. Everyday, they prove my trust and faith in them. I know they may not see the future in themselves, but, again, I do not worry. With time, they will see what I see in and know about them.

As for the rest of the world outside my classroom, my hope is we will finally wake up, look at ourselves in the mirror, stop justifying our sins, and start acknowledging the innate humanity in every person. I don’t want to see any more people become hashtags. 

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