Today I was brought speechless. For those who know me, speechless is a word that doesn’t pop around too often as I always have something to say. Today during a relocation drill, a little girl was talking to me about the police escorts we had, making sure that the local cars did not run the little school children over.
“My dad doesn’t like cops” she said. I imagined this comment was going somewhere but I also didn’t want to believe it was happening with me there. This little girl just so happened to be Black.
“Why?” I knew why, I hated the fact that I knew why.
“Cause they have guns and he said they don’t like Black people.”
I’ve seen stories all over Facebook about Trump and what seems to be an uprising of American police officers discriminating against Black people. As much as we like to think that Canada is the true north, strong and free, we can get pretty close to some of the extremes of our brother across the border. You just have know where to look. What was I to say to this little girl who stated matter-of-factly about her father?
“That is not true. There are so many good cops in this world who don’t care about the colour of your skin and would help you if you were in trouble. But you never hear about those ones-you only hear about the ones your dad talks about. Those guys are just not very smart people.”
Not terribly inspiring but enough to move the conversation along.
So, I think I grown a lot in terms of my world perspective in the last 4 months. That is not to say that I’ve seen or learned everything but it’s enough that I am starting to feel the fire under my feet that we’re standing around preaching about the world’s horror and yet very little is being done about it at the top and bottom level. Consider this my pledge to the public, one that you must hold me accountable to. I am no professional, I’m not even a teacher. I’m one of those cart-before-the-horse-people, but I’m itching to step foot into a classroom as one. I don’t have hours of educational courses under my belt that give me a step-by-step plan on how to conquer the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated. I do however have the drive because each night I go to bed, the list of children on my mind grows and grows and it makes me angry to know that they may never know freedom in the way many kids do. It might take me 10 years to accomplish their dream but I’m done-I’m sick of waiting for other people to do it. I’m tired of 8-year olds who’ve lost hope in themselves, I’m tired of 8-year olds who see this world as a place to live fearfully in. I’m tired of looking at my twitter feed and watching all the plans that will supposedly help better the situations for minority groups in very traditional ways. You do not need to be a person of a non-caucasian minority to make a difference…you just need to be able to be gutsy, relentless and sightly insane. Also, having a back-up plan in case someone finds you too much is useful too. Ending up without a job would suck.
Education. The whole of the world’s problems lies in the fact that some people receive a shitty education. They learn how to read, they learn how to add and sometimes they do a science experiment turning snow into water. This is not an education. As someone who tired of school very early on and who experienced challenges in school I will be the first to tell you that this was not what I looked forward to every morning. This was going by the book, this was doing a job. It didn’t matter how nice or great the teacher was, it was fundamentally useless and boring in my eyes. Who changed my world between then and now? Mr. Byron. Who, after swearing that I’d never step foot in a school once free, opened my eyes up about what’s possible?
Mr. Byron did not teach to the lowest of his students. He did not teach to the middle. He taught to the most ambitious. Emotionally he met us where we were at and academically he met us where we should be. He taught us how to throw knives on the first day of school. He took us biking to teach us about ratios. We had “pet” crickets (though he would never call them that) and played with legos. We went camping to learn about science AND planned our own trips (grocery shopping, budget, EVERYTHING) to learn about mathematics. HE TOOK RISKS. He called you out for making bad choices, he didn’t coddle you or say how great you were each day (and believe me, some kids did need that but it wasn’t his style). We followed a strict regime of discipline and respect and yet he had the most flexibility in his teaching. We stood on desks, worked INDEPENDENTLY outside, played the drums, came up with rap songs, had closed book tests, open book tests, made our own tests, problem based projects, student-led projects. None of it would ever happen again in the rest of my education. Yet, HE changed the world for all of us. The under-achievers, the emotionally disturbed, the timid, the annoying, the over-achievers, perfectionists alike. How? Because in a world where you are taught that it is okay to stand out, there are sure a lot of teachers who are afraid to and they’re our biggest influences. They’ll lose their job, it’s not the goal of the system, it’s too complicated, it’s too time-consuming. It might all be true, Mr. Byron must have been exceptionally crazy, but it worked.
What he taught us was not the numbers or the equations, he taught us the application of all that we were learning. We learned to view the world as an always evolving classroom with numbers popping out of everywhere, words coming off of the walls and possibilities in every step we took. We were hyper-active kids, with over-developed brains (some from birth, some from trauma, some from just nature’s strange ways) and catered to those needs by creating an environment that forced us to give a damn.We viewed our classmates not as temporary friends but team mates (who, occasionally had the power to affect your success so you better treat them right).
Why Mr. Byron in a post like this? Because he is the only teacher I have ever met who has successfully raised generations of seventh-graders to achieve their full potential in an environment that is as untraditional as it gets. UNTRADITIONAL. He was “that” class in the middle of our school. This is the point, if we want children who experience educational challenges, regardless of why, to achieve their ultimate best, why are they still learning in ways that mean nothing to them? I do not want to see children who are bright (and I see it!), thoughtful, caring, just lacking in some social and emotional challenges to be swept away by the world of the trade industry. Some of these people would make exceptional teachers! Lawyers! Social Workers! Police Officers! It is not enough to get them to just “make it” to High School so they can be in a co-op. The change is now, when they are young and impressionable to change the world for them. They must see what we see in them and we must teach and instruct from THEIR world. I swapped a “cat met a rat sitting on a mat. Oh that silly fat cat” book for a book on wrestlers. The book was disgusting to me, I don’t want to see John Cena’s man boobs. However, what brightness and light it brought to a kid who couldn’t read. Meeting him in his world was the best thing that could have happened that day. Less was he reminded that he is only a B-level book reader but an actual person interested in books that other people his age who could read would be interested in. Could he read it? Probably not. But would he want to try and learn? Of course, he proved it right there. Was it a “just-right” book? Of course not, but how could I expect him to pick a “just-right” book when his life and motivation was the farthest thing from “just-right”.
There is something to be said about the educators who branch off and do their own thing. They each have different goals but they all seem to stem from the same tree. It’s about meeting the kids where they should be and ensuring there is nothing that can stop them from growing on the way up. The only problem is these types of programs are only available to those who can pay for it and our biggest treasures lie in the bottoms of the piles and the bottoms of the barrel who can’t. They’ll float in and out of programs and plans, meet caring teachers and not-so-caring ones. Eventually they’ll be phased out. The lucky few will make it to the co-op. There will be something that remains the same in all of them though. The world they will live in will comprise of what they feel injustice is, it means they may believe their background is the reason for their failure. They may believe it is because of their background they are successful. Either the world will have given them nothing or everything-but either way it will still be, them versus the world. Instead of them versus themselves there will always be that “extra” factor.
I can’t speak for those who are Black. I can however, speak as someone who was told that she would be a great asset to the Educational Diversity of the school system. I do not want to be part of an elevation-of-the-minorities plan. I don’t even want to be that great brown role-model that’s supposed to be everyone’s Aung San Suu Kyi in education. I want to be part of the plan that acknowledges that no matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve to be given high expectations to achieve more than you think you can do and be inspired to get there. You can’t be motivated to aim high if it’s not fun. Most importantly I want to be part of the plan that emphasizes we are all responsible for each other failures and successes. I’ll stand on a desk, rap a beat, read a thousand John Cena books if I have to. If it means that I stray from my plan to elevate someone to theirs I’ll do it. If it means giving someone a perspective on the world that they haven’t seen yet-I’ll do it.
I never want to have to think about what to say to a little girl who says that her dad thinks cops are bad because they do not like Black people. I do not wish to educate children in a world that is going this way. I want to think about how it will feel when that little girl says, “…but I know it’s not true.” Because, the day I hear that I will know that she was really educated and she is going to become someone greater than the world is ready for. They say teachers are superheroes without capes. This is very true because I do not think you’re really a superhero until you take off your cape and put it onto someone else. However, teachers, future teachers, old teachers…if you do still have a functioning cape, use it to fly from your desk and into the world of risk and the unknown. A lot of students come from there.