On Education: You Keep Lists?
At a professional development session last week, I made a remark to a colleague about the list of students who might not graduate that we had received in our email. The point of the electronic message was to make teachers aware of the need to help these kids in any way possible get over whatever hurdles might keep them from passing their classes.
The point of the electronic message was to remind us to be the hope where perhaps our students had none.
A teacher from a salubrious suburban town not very far from where I work remarked with horror, "You have a list?"
Sure do. Because down the road from wherever you are live scores of young people who lack hope and don't see the point. If they can't see a future, these kids see school as a place where they belong, eat hot food, and are accepted by other kids and adults who get the no-hope thing and choose to try rather than recoil in righteous indignation that--what? That some young people need caring adults to hope for them while they figure out that the world is wide open for them, that it's theirs, too.
The "You have a list?" lady expressed her contempt for me and my colleague at the same time she expressed it for the kids on our list. Some people would call it racism. I call it stupidity. Nevertheless, I was intrigued, so I sat back and listened. The suburban teachers spoke in acronyms about the various programs and initiatives and forms in place at their schools. On and on. My colleague and I talked about our kids and what it took for us to jump those hurdles with them.
I am a white American whose family can trace its roots on this continent back 400 years. Our story is the story of hard work, struggle, participation, hard work, struggle, and participation. My ancestors fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and both World Wars. My ancestors have served in the military since. My family has worked for a living and contributed to the building of the United States. Nobody gave us anything as we gave and gave.
I am a part of the 14th generation of my family in the great experiment currently doing business as the United States of America, and I spend my days on the government payroll doing everything I can to impress upon my students the role of language in shaping character, identity, values, community. I take tremendous pride in telling my students that General George Washington took charge of the Continental Army after reading five books on warfare and he managed to win the Revolution the same way the Yankees tend to win World Series--barely and when you least expect it.
I take tremendous pride in teaching my students that if you read a few books you can shift the entire world's understanding of power. I do that in roomsful of kids who totally get that in the United States of America this is possible. I honor the legacy of my very white ancestors by sharing this hope, dream, belief with Mexican, Puerto Rican. Dominican, Japanese, African, and white-as-me Americans. When I think of the contributions my family has made to the United States of America, I am only to happy to step into the breach when a student loses hope. This is how I honor the sacrifices of my family. I do what I do to protect their gifts.
In this bizarre world where white people apologize for being white, I don't. I go to work and strive to create an environment where my being white is as immaterial as others' being black or Hispanic or anything else. The real deal is that we are here and we own the moment. We are who we are. How beautiful is it that when some of us loses hope others send out a list of names that we might lift them up yet again, that the American Dream might live?
My family has given, bled, and died for this nation over and over again. I honor their gifts by teaching my students that they are worth the trouble, that the American Dream lives. Our list of students who might not make it is a reminder of how fragile this great experiment is. This is not the work of this district or that. This is the work of the American people. We are everything.