Friday, October 14, 2016

And Then There Are the Moments When We Face The Problem We All Live With, and the Consensus Desires Change

Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With (1964)
Walking the dog earlier this week, I updated my IPod for new NPR stories (Yup, that's what one does when they turn grey) and I heard This American Life "The Problem We All Live With - a story of Normandy, Missouri, and the the 2013 integration of 1,000 students into Frances Howell schools. As I walked by homes and let Glamis do her squatting thing, I found myself infuriated by the story, inspired, hopeful, and then angry once again. I immediate came home to share the story with many I know only to learn that this was a re-aired story, and the original came out in 2015. I felt like I was slighted and tardy in hearing this program. It is, after all, what my mind thinks about every day.

Why the segregation in the 21st century? How is it that schools in the northeast are not as integrated as the ones I knew in Louisville? Why can't every place be like the Brown School?

Then, there's the Rockwell painting: a young, African American girl being escorted by U.S. marshall to get an equitable education while tomatoes are thrown at her and racial slurs are etched on the walls. It seems like such hatred it that of history books, but as Nikole Hannah Jones makes clear in her reporting, the hatred lurks in all of our communities, even now. This hatred, too, has been released from all the chains that once sealed it in because of this year's toxic presidential election. Out of the woodworks, the venom is being spit once again.

Yesterday, after my students and I discussed working with young people at Bassick High School, Maxine Green's notion of contexts and caring, Freire's command that a teacher must love, and Rizga's celebration of diversity in Mission High, we listened to "The Problem We All Live with Together." My university is primarily White, affluent and secluded from the diversity that is the United States. As I played the audio, I wondered if there'd be off-color reactions to the story or challenges to the reporting. I filled up three, single space pages of notes and I realized my students did the same. When the story ended, they all exhaled and admitted, "That was heavy." I agreed and said, "Let's just go around the room and offer a statement of thought about what you just heard.

  • The report caused a lot of anxiety in me, but I teared up and had hope when the teachers at Frances Howell welcomed the students bused to their school with cheers and celebration, countering the hatred the parents spewed,
  • The systems we live with work extra hard to segregate and keep communities apart, 
  • It scares me that this is so common and that we still haven't learned,
  • The answer is simple: integration. It's not an easy switch, but it works. 
  • The system continues to keep White and Black communities separated. 
  • Young people do not share the anger or hatred of their parents.
  • Young people pick up on the anger and hatred of their parents.
  • The one thing that mattered to Michael Brown's mom is that he finished his education. Although Normandy was a horrible experience, he finished,
  • I grow anger for those that are so unsympathetic. 
  • Students have voices and need to be heard. 
  • It breaks my heart to hear the broken hearts of children who want a chance. What if it was your child?
  • Why haven't Superintendents been able to turnaround failing districts and schools? 
  • Government talks out of both sides of their mouths (incidentally, while we had these conversations, it was released that Obama's administration announced that student's test scores in K-12 schools will now be used to rate, judge, and reprimand Schools of Education at Universities - with the consequence that teaching in high-risk districts will be discouraged because those scores will reflect poorly on teaching programs),
  • Can learning and education ever be truly colorblind? 
  • How do we fight the apartheid? The lack of resources.
100% of the young people in my course were appalled that this story was just being introduced to them today. Some admitted that their families paid college consulters to help them get into college because it was the norm - perfect schooling and perfect grades were the way of the schools, and they never thought that there were alternative experiences. 

I wrote in my journal that I sometimes feel like a traitor leaving the urban classroom, and I wonder if I can make a better difference at the college level  (when we know there needs to be stronger teachers in our schools). Of course, as a strong teacher in school the obstacles are tremendous when one considers the systemic problems of testing, force curriculum, and student-excluded pedagogy. 

I recommend listening to the radio show linked above. And I wonder what can be done next. That's what will keep me up for the next few weeks. 

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