As I wrap up my dissertation, essentially finishing twenty-one long years of formal education, I’m reflecting on the path I’ve taken and the road before me. Thirteen years ago when I earned my bachelor’s degree I was elated, a bit nervous, and yet wonderfully excited to start life. Never mind that I’d been living plenty all along, but that lesson is one that often comes with age.
I can’t say I have quite the optimism I had at 21. Yes, in my innermost soul is still this hopeful belief that humanity and the world can be great– that we can stop bombing each other, hating each other, and fighting wars over god like toddlers who refuse to share a toy.
The recent events in Missouri, which in truth are simply a brush fire in a long sequence of policies which have led to militarized police, a disappearing middle class, and as much racial segregation now as when my mother rode the bus and blacks sat at the back.
I must admit, I spent many years of my youth trying to reconcile the patriotic history in the school books and the truth. When your third grade teacher tells you how police beat her when she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s hard to see anything positive in the fact this country was built on slavery. I think her name was Mrs. Horne, maybe, but I was in awe of her and all like her who had made the world a better place, or so my 8 year old self thought.
Oh and manifest destiny– can’t forget that gem. My school books made it sound so great, like this wonderful, grand achievement. Oh sure, we killed off as many Native Americans as we could, nearly drove a species (Bison) to extinction for spite, but let’s not look at that stuff too closely.
I grew up with the rhetoric that racism was a thing of the past. Sure there were crazy KKK folks, but no one takes them seriously anymore. I sadly realized it wasn’t. I’ve seen it at play all around me. It’s the folks that paint all minorities with broad strokes. It’s the hiring managers that offer a job to a less qualified white dude rather than anyone of color. It’s the average person that thinks nothing of the fact that when lunch break is announced on the job site, all the whites congregate, all the blacks, and all the Hispanics in separate groups. No one even tries to bridge the divide. It’s the insulting jokes made in front of kids, spreading the hate to another generation. It’s all that and more.
Folks say that a lot of problems need to be fixed internally (i.e. inside the minority communities), well, yes, but the whole system is corrupt, which makes fixing anything difficult. Our whole government needs an accounting, because they owe the people a whole hell of a lot. We have not sent brothers, fathers, cousins, sons, and friends off to bleed and die to have our country rip away our rights, steal our opportunities and jobs, and crush us under debts and fear.
As someone who did not come from money, and who has worked very hard to get where I am, I’m more aware than many how important education is. Education creates leaders and thinkers. Education gives us the tools to be more than our parents dreamed. It creates informed voters. It is what can make America truly great.
In key parts of my life, it was very often a teacher that made all the difference. My sister teaches middle school choir in a school populated by primarily low-income children. She’s one of those teachers, the one that doesn’t see a kid that statistics say won’t succeed, but rather a child. She challenges each one, demands nothing but the best, and also, when the time is right, nudges them to envision a future beyond the ghetto, barrio, slum, or whatever you wish to call it. The first step in trying is believing you can. No matter race or class, that type of mentor-ship is invaluable. It can change lives. Quality education then provides the means for children to grown into adults that have more than prison and welfare as a future.
We pay our teachers crap, give them so much paperwork they are lucky to get sleep, and yet we expect them to work miracles year after year with naught but blame heaped at their feet. Even at the higher level institutions we are seeing the results of decades of this. Good teachers are giving up. Good researchers are retiring. Their passion has been choked by red tape and red ledgers created by futile wars.
Just as hate is taught, so is hope. I say that it isn’t too late. Help a neighbor. Help a teacher. Help a child. DO something.