“Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school. We have too many schools that are under resourced…too many teachers that want to be in the classroom but can’t be due to budget constraints – not because they can’t do the job. We can’t let another generation of students fall behind because we didn’t have the courage to admit what we are doing that doesn’t work, admit it, and replace it with something that does. We’ve gotta act now!”– Our president, Barak Obama
I taught middle school music in an inner city school in Atlanta for 3 years. I was young when I started teaching (first year out of college, 22 years old). I had a lot of heart but, truth be told, I didn’t know what in the world I was doing. I wondered how anything I had learned in my 4 years of college applied to this real-life classroom. Especially since this real life classroom contained students that lived lives I couldn’t comprehend. 6th grade twins who had never met their father because he had been in jail their whole life. 7th grade girls whose parents pimped them out. 8th grade boys who came to class high as a kite because they were dealing and doing drugs with their uncle last night. And these were only a handful of the 190 students I came in contact with each semester in choir or general music class. Each had their own, usually gut-wrenchingly painful, story.
“People think us kids in D.C. are surrounded by opportunities….well, some of us is not. Some of us grow in these projects our whole life.” – 18 year old student in a D.C. public school (180 Day PBS documentary)
In talks with my 190 students, the truth that I came to understand is that, to make it out of the cycle of poverty-stricken, 8th grade education, pregnant in 9th grade, in jail at age 18 years old life, it takes the beating of TREMENDOUS odds. And, even in those times when the students DID beat the odds, there were still people that looked down on them and judged them simply because of where they came from. I found this to be the most true for my black male students. As one of my students told me: “A white guy gets in a fight at a bar, he gets kicked out. A black guy does the same thing, he goes to jail.” Yes, this is a big generalization but, but, let’s not kid ourselves here. That statement has truth to it…..all you have to do is check out the guys at the St Cloud prison today (like Jeremy and I do when we go there for jail ministry) and talk to them for a few minutes to know what’s up when it comes to racism and classicism in the justice system.
“Most of our kids in the school just need to be told the truth. You see, they’ve been lied to. They may graduate elementary school reading at a 3rd grade level but, we pass them through anyway. How can they make it in middle school?” – Teacher and Coach, D.C. Public Schools (180 Day PBS documentary)
I will be the first to go on record to say that I’m not sure how to solve this problem….the problem of passing kids on through even though they do not have the skills to make it in the next grade level. This is not something that only happens to “those inner city schools in the south.” This is a right now problem in the St. Cloud School District. Right here, under our own noses, there are so many kids that are living in this same cycle of poverty and lack of education that I experienced a decade and a half ago in a school far, far away. We can’t escape it. We have to talk about it.
Question is, whose job is it to fix this?
“Everyone is a teacher, whether you have a job in education or not.” – Teacher and Coach, D.C. Public Schools (180 Day PBS documentary)
It’s your job. It’s my job. It’s my church’s job. It’s the mayor’s job. It’s the congress’ job. It’s the president’s job. We are responsible for what happens in the future for this country and the reality of the future of our city.
Whoa….that’s a big job. What can I do?
You can do the next right thing. I can do the next right thing. When people talk to me about “those people that don’t even speak English” taking teaching time away from our students, I can make a choice to stand up for my Somolian neighbors and explain to this nay-sayer that I love it that my kids get to see what the freedom in our country means first hand. Out of a refugee camp in Somolia, and into a public school in America. Away from bombs, and into a country that protects their children with the gift of education. Beautiful. Does it make out test scores go up? Nope. Does it make my kids heart understand something years of education could not teach them? You bet.
For everything that America isn’t, I thank God for the things that it is. It is a country whose public schools system wants to protect the underdog. Does it work? Not all the time….and in some areas, not most of the time. But, if it works for 1 child, that’s enough. If it gives one family a chance to break the cycle of poverty, that’s enough.
You are a teacher. What lesson will you teach today?