Sunday, March 7, 2010

Books, Leaders and Pants

Manhattan sun, Manhattan youth - her calm and confidence speaks volumes of what can be.

I just spent the early part of my Saturday rummaging through piles and piles of books in a ballroom of a hotel in Manhattan. I enlisted the help of a fellow teacher and together we collected 2 boxes, about 60lbs each, of books. I was not only happy to do it, but I was sad that I did not have more time and access to all the books donated so that I could pick as much as possible for my students. Project Cicero is quite amazing! All this was set up by them and the books were donated from countless sources, for the benefit of teachers (and students) at high needs schools. For two days straight the ballroom will teem with teachers, allowed one hour per person, hungrily snatching up whatever they think may possibly work for their students. It was touching to pause for a minute and observe – the efforts of the volunteers, the generosity of the donors, the selflessness of the teachers giving up their Saturday sleep to do this for their students; it was also a little sad to yet again, in yet another way, be reminded of the great divide. I started watching “Gandhi” today and his story and that of his work touches so closely to what is happening here. Thankfully we do have one law for one country, but it is surely not equally dispensed, and we do have opportunities in abundance, but they certainly are not equally accessible.

It seems we are getting complacent with the amount of progress made by previous generations and are coasting on their success. In the last two decades I, and perhaps I am not the most acute observer and if so I would love to hear your feedback proving me wrong, have not seen a shred of progress towards leveling the playing field for all citizens of this country. We no longer lynch, we no longer hose, we no longer segregate buses, restaurants, schools or theaters, but out failing schools are mostly populated with “minorities”, as are our jails and minimum wage jobs. Where is the leadership and effort? Where are the Black and Latino leaders? Where are the acts that lead to progress? Sometimes I hear angry words, mostly from people who care more about saying them than actually making a lasting difference, but I see no actions. I see organizations like and Teach for America and Teaching Fellows and Project Cicero and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working their asses off, but these are mostly white founded and white ran organizations. Where are the Kings, X’s, Theresa’s, Gandhi’s, Tubman’s, Stanton’s, Park’s, Dessalines’s? Where are those to justify my efforts to my students? Who will say that I am not just another instrument of oppression? With all my good intentions and multi-cultural approach to education and respect I am still a symbol of a discriminating elite (little do they know how broke-ass and culturally oppressed I am – but I look white). Smart kids are still ridiculed and abused. Black teachers are still often seen as puppets of the system (or Oreos). Why?! White nerds are getting more and more tail and respect, while Blacks and Latinos who care about education are getting beat up and emotionally disemboweled. Who passes on the knowledge, the history of slaves risking their lives to learn how to read and write? We have museums and organizations making sure we don’t forget the holocaust so that it will never again be repeated, and we are well aware of these, but where is the secret stash of memorabilia that can remind these kids of the blood and lives lost to not only learn how to read but to give future generations the opportunity to do the same without risk of torture and murder? I am not saying we need to teach more “African-American” authors and artists, nor should we relegate another meaningless month to recognizing the contributions of Americans who happen to be Black. I am saying we need to focus our efforts on exposing the true history of our disenfranchised populations to give them hope and tools to grow, not humor them by reading about MLK in February and then harassing them for sagging their pants.
And I am not talking about leaders who happen to be Black or Latino (Barack Obama) I am talking about leaders of Black and Latino people. As a society we have thankfully progressed to allow politicians into D.C and students into Harvard, but as a community I long to see the Blacks and Latinos embody the spirit of their forefathers.

Any thoughts?

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