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My kiddos.

October 21, 2009

Today was a long day at work.

I stopped by the counseling office this morning when I got to school and joking asked which of my kids were in trouble. It’s always bad when the response to this question is anything but an eye roll. Apparently some kid drew swastikas all over the bathroom. They think that they were mine, because it happened after school near the cafeteria, which is one of our rooms. I hope it’s not one of our kids, but I suspect that it might be.

Last year one of my boys drew them all over his binder. When I sat down with him to talk about it, he replied that he didn’t really know what the Holocaust was, but didn’t really care because he’d learn that next year…in eighth grade. Needless to say, we spent the next half hour looking at pictures taken in concentration camps.

Later, I talked to our gang counselor about a 7th grade girl who is failing all her classes and talking shit about gangs. She also used the phrase “When I get pregnant”…

One of my kids who’s in foster care burst into tears when he got in trouble for sticking his tongue in his cheek, complete with hand gestures at a girl – he broke down sobbing and insisted that if his foster mom found out he’d be sent to a different foster home.

I feel like education reform is too late for these kids, and for generations before them. And for some of them, education might be the only thing they have to break a long ass cycle of poverty (and for some, gang involvement). I also am constantly struggling with how to run a program that is consistently progressive and affirming and empowering to them in a world where they are constantly beaten down. In so many ways these children are treated like prisoners, and our schools resemble prisons. Not only do their parents treat them like that (I got “permission” from a parent to slap her son around), but teachers and administrators treat them like herds of animals. But then, what else are you supposed to do when you have 30 kids in a class? You can’t stop to have heart to heart conversations with them all. You can’t stop the class for a discussion about what math concept they are ALL having trouble with – you’ve got to keep up with the pacing guide! We feed them fake food, laden down with hormones and fat. In the spring we stop classes for THREE WEEKS to do testing! Three weeks of sitting in a desk filling in bubbles! What adult could handle that?

How do you create a space where youth have choice and a voice and at the same time create order, structure, safety, and state compliance…? I feel like so many educators are stuck in a cycle and having to create “safe” (and I mean safe in the most unflattering of terms) classes, but while doing that they give up their politics and dreams for our students. I haven’t learned how to navigate what seems like a huge divide. And I haven’t figured out how to help kids take responsibility for themselves and their education when everyone else in their life is spoon feeding it to them. In order to make it though this education system they must take that responsibility, otherwise it’s far too easy for them to fall between the cracks. In a state where only about 50% of my Latino and African American boys will graduate from HIGH SCHOOL I’m so scared to consider which of these guys are going to by the ones to get lost.

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