How many times have I told a struggling student that they need an education because it is going to make a positive impact on their standard of living later in life? And while this might be true, to an extent, does the question say more about the economic narrative that undergirds public education and society or about my leverage as an educator to place value on what we teach? It would be foolish to ignore that I teach to pay the bills. But I naively hope to be like my teacher heroes that inspired me to value learning and the ability to ask questions. And they were probably caught in this same conundrum.
So, why are we here? Recognizing the political nature of schooling, the racial and economic disparities perpetuated on school campuses, and the American Dream wrapped in sheets of standardized curricula and exams, I have to admit that being inside the system results in moments of being confounded. Working with 12th graders has shown me that they possess a deeper awareness than some of their teachers expect. They have developed a resiliency to overcome the limitations places on their thinking and many are negatively impacted to the point where they stop believing in themselves. They get by to get out. And I hear many teachers say that the world inside the classroom is nothing like the "real world." So, why are we here? In the same way institutional injustice rears its head in the "real world" so too does it manifest itself in school hallways and classrooms. T.S. Eliot asked, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" And however cliche it is to hang on every word on Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, when the company sings "the world turned upside down" I feel something inside stir.
I am here because I feel the value of learning in asking questions, in rethinking knowledges, and in exploring possibilities. I am here to find out what it means to be human, ethical, inclusive, reflective, active, and as Freire said, unfinished. I am here to tear away at the foundations of injustice and inequality by leaving today better than yesterday. I am here to figure out what this looks like when we uncover the intertwining of theory and practice that seek to upset the status quo.
The next 32 days are going to be interesting, to say the least.
Having not posted a blog in awhile, I thought of a good challenge. 33 Chapters. 33 Days. 33 Reflections. I have not been back to visit Jonathan Kozol's On Being A Teacher in years, definitely before I began my doctoral program in 2011. In the months after completing my dissertation defense, I have been at some kind of stop-gap. One of my advisors said that I would feel tremendous anxiety having so much free time. "No" was an answer I often gave and instead went to Starbucks and sat in front of my computer for hours transcribing audio files, coding data, and writing.
Now that it's done, I find myself doing a lot of nothing but sitting and thinking. School is out. I am not teaching summer school. What have I really accomplished? My peers and family are proud and yet I feel a sense of incompleteness. Studying for five years with some of the smartest and most compassionate teachers, colleagues, activists, mentors, and friends filled a gap I discovered after five years of teaching. Just five months later, it is happening again.
What does it mean to be a teacher?
Thus, my personal challenge. You'd think that instead of 33 days of reading and writing about be better spent doing 33 days of activity. I did a little searching and found a great TedTalk by Matt Cutts about 30 Day Challenges. I will heed his advice and not take on too much; however, I like the 30 minute walk. It might be cheating when I am on vacation for two weeks, because I promise to do a lot of walking.
There will be a brief gap in my responses when I am gone; however, that time I set aside to do some inward searching. When I have Internet, I'll post. When I don't, journaling will suffice. Today this journey begins. I hope that this challenge turns to dialogue and invites others to explore along with me.