Recently while attending “Race Talks”, a forum designed to increase talk between people of differing ethnic and racial backgrounds, I was struck by statements that illustrate what I have come to believe: Those that are oppressed, save us all, even in their oppression. Recently I read Victor Frankle’s ” The Meaning of Man” and one of his core statements about his experience was “we know the best of us did not survive”. In my meager interpretation, I understand this to mean that those that offered non-violent resistance during the Holocaust, or shared food, gave up a warmer seat for another, often, did not survive. I wonder too if maybe this statement highlights a condition I have seen in survivors around a sense of guilt that they survived and others didn’t. In such madness, how can there be any clear logic about what would allow one to survive and not another? However, it relates to this idea that those that died and suffered ahead of us, also continue to save us…even in their death and suffering. We don’t want that suffering to go without honor…without purpose and we don’t want to succumb to the same power, greed and unconsciousness that allowed the situation to occur. Their acts of goodness and kindness change “eye for an eye” thinking, reminding all of the best inside all of us. So, it is with this thought in mind, that I listened to the panelist and other speakers during Race Talks as they recounted hate crimes in our community and their responses.
One speaker spoke of how he, as a child, was called vile names by the police as he walked his bike down his own neighborhood street. His childhood innocence and strong home nurturing, helped him to simply define the racist policeman as the anomaly and move on. However, later, and after a lifetime of standing against hate crimes, when his place of business was burned because he was a black business owner, he, honest about the anger and hurt….still claimed love as his only response. I don’t have many words that seem eloquent and worthy to describe this way of life. It speaks for itself I think. Simple. Powerful. It says if this man is capable of love, so am I. In this way, a path of being “saved” or freedom is shown through oppression.
In another story, an elder from the Albina community spoke of how section 8, building of the Collesium, Lloyd Center and Emmanuel hospital parceled out the residents of their historic black neighborhood, destroying homes and jobs. She described some of the pain and losses related to losing the young families that moved out and at the loss of a black center of business along Albina street. However, she summed up all her stories with the statement…”but I am called to love”. Again, I was humbled by the conviction in her voice and the freedom she lived in.
I honestly left that night wondering how to balance this call to love with the necessary activism of justice. Some ideas were offered: When hate crimes go to court, show up at the trial, stand with the victims. When a hate crime happens in your community, whether or work or in your residential community, stand with the victim and publicly state that such action is not ok here. The victim needs to know your support and the entire community needs to clarify its beliefs through such actions. We had the opportunity to stand and applaud the strength of the victims who spoke at Race Talks that night. The rhythm of the standing applause sunk into my soul. I was honored to be a part of it. I was saved a bit that night by listening to the voices and hearing the lives lived in love by those who have every reason to hate. They break the cycle of hate every day, over and over again. I believe they also transform every day situations into acts of justice. They save us all.
While in college I had the chance to travel to the Phillipines. It was, as they often say, life changing. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty was beyond ironic, it was blatantly horrific. Shacks housing many families were nested against the walls of luxurious estates, housing one large powerful family. I even had the dark, comedic experience of seeing all of Imelda Marco’s shoes, lined up flaunting garish color against the grimy grey that saturated the air, clothing and water most of the population consumed. I remember the thrill of hope I had, as a young political student, when I say Corizon Aquino whirled by in her car and yellow dress. I hoped she would bring change, justice, just a few more flip flops for the barefooted children, to the Phillipines. My hope for the Phillipines has flagged as conditions have changed very little in spite of some hopeful revolutionary efforts. It may be how I feel at times when I consider our own streets, towns, shacks and estates here in Oregon and the United States
In my experience as a teacher, principal and Title I and Title III Teacher on Special Assignment specifically assigned to teacher development regarding our students who are most in need, I have observed a pattern that nearly “flattens” my usual robust “never-give-up” attitude toward advocating and teaching every child and family well. No matter, how hard we teach, the economic realities of nested pockets of wealth and poverty serve to isolate both communities from each other. Communities comprised of economic difference, existing right next to each other often don’t even know the other exist. Well, it seems often the more affluent community often doesn’t know the less affluent one exist. I moved from a small lower SES community, 5 miles down the road to one with one of the highest SES’s in the state. When I explained where I moved from, often people didn’t know where that was. I was shocked. How could you not know the community just down the street…in your school sport league? I believe the less affluent community is keenly aware of those next to them. For the schools in these communities,the realities of the haves and have nots are the brutal facts of everyday life. The human resource that a more affluent community can provide to the school can be arugued as the difference in the test scores and life opportunity. Why else did I move to such a community? I wonder how we can provide these opportunities for all students and avoid the need for families like mine to move. How can we provide for and value the gifts of communities where families work two to three jobs, don’t even see each other due to shift work, and speak two to three languages; encourage their kids every day to stay in school, but can’t support their children in their homework past a certain grade. How can they compete with the tutors, outside experiences, school supplies and technology that the the other community is blessed to provide?
Jennifer L. Hodschule of Harvard Univeristy states in the Journal of Social Issues Vol. 59, No. 4, 2003. p. 821-840 the following regarding these disparities and their high stakes impact: Education largely and increasingly determines an individual’s job choice and income (Danziger & Reed, 1999). It more and more determines whom one will marry (Kalmijn, 1991; Mare, 1991). It has more impact than any other factor, possibly excepting wealth, on whether one participates in politics, what one believes politically, and how much political influence one has (Verba, 2001; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). It is the arena in which the United States has sought to overcome racial domination and class hierarchy, to turn immigrants into Americans, to transform children into responsible citizens, to create and main- tain our democracy (Cremin, 1988; Gutmann, 1987; Kluger, 1975; Spring, 2000; Tyack, 1974).
Further she states:
Most importantly, adults’ life chances depend increasingly on attaining higher education, but the number of young adults completing college has stalled since the 1970s and class background is as important as ever in determining who attends and finishes college (Ellwood & Kane, 2000; Kane, 2001). Over three-quarters of well-off young adults go straight from high school to college, compared with half of poor youth. Well-off students are also more likely to go to a four-year rather than a two-year college (Card & Lemieux, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 1994).
Hoschild goes on to state that our poor our disproportionately of African Americans or recent immigrants and exist in schools within what she calls “nested inequalities” Nest of disproportionate instruction, resources, achievement and access within states, districts, schools and classes
“…every student sits at the center of at least four nested structures of inequality and separation – states, districts, schools, and classes. Well-off or white and Asian parents usually manage to ensure that their children obtain the benefits of this structure; poor and non-Asian minority parents have a much harder time doing so (Mollenkopf, Zeltzer-Zubida, Holdaway, Kasinitz, & Waters, 2002). As a result, the United States has not witnessed the full equality of educational opportunity between classes that one would expect from all the reforms since the 1960s and from Americans’ commitments to equality of opportunity (Hochschild, 1995). ”
I observe these nested inqualities on a daily basis as I drive from the affluent neighborhood we currently are leasing in to other neighborhoods five to 10 miles away. I also observe within a given district, different school which serve the populations mentioned above. I believe we know what to do to educate all students well. I am not sure we have the desperate resolve in place for the how. I am sure we need more partnering between communities to address these issues. My question and challenge is to ask myself and others: how do we bring communities together to care about other people’s children? How do we value all stories and ways of knowing? How might we say ” we have a lot of extra in this community…let us share with you? And then, to avoid the dangers of patrimony that may lead to patronization, how can those who have less material and economic resources teach others and strengthen the whole?
I believe we need each other. I believe nested inequalities are a type of blindness. We believe if we just support “our” community we are doing the good we should. We do not feel a responsibility to partner with other communities if I have given to my school’s foundation, my child’s class. Seeing each other’s communities or children is further complicated, from the view point of schools by the tremendous load that is hoisted on all staff and students. The reduction in funding across the board causes “hoarding” of resources and a mind to look after “your own” more ardently.
I know these are complicated issues, but I also know we must look at them if we are to save ourselves, our communities entire. If we believe we are ok if “my” community is ok, we fail. We have bought into an impressive and seductive lie that gives way to oppressive judicial and legal practices to further reinforce the dangers of communities sharing and caring one for another. I also know, that in a regular human being’s daily life, just managing the well being of your own children can be enough, lifting our heads to see that of another’s seems beyond our strength. How can we see a way? How can we hear a way?
As I listen to all people talk, I see pathways to answer the question I posed in the begging. How can we value the strengths of all communities and balance the resources that our communities with more economic resources provide their schools and children. I listened last night to a mentor and leader of the Albina community of NE Portland. She helped me see.
Next blog…the strength of the Portland Albina communities. Reflections from Race Talks.
Today Deborah Meire responded to Pedro Noreague’s last post about school reform. Here are some key lines that I want to respond to.
What we need to start with is a consensus that schools have to raise kids alongside their families; they have to join together on behalf of building a generation of strong citizens with powerful and unrelenting habits of mind, habits that provide for their own well-being and that of their families, communities, and nation. Maybe the planet’s. That to do all this we need schools that treat teachers, students, parents, and neighbors respectfully, as though they have things to learn from each other and the power to carry out their ideas. They must never settle for viewing “other people’s children” differently than their own. We also need trustworthy information that will help us all compare and contrast. We will probably not be surprised that small class size helps, that more time devoted to family conferences helps, that teachers need professional colleagues and the time to work together, etc.
Me: I couldn’t agree more with the collaboration between home and school and the deep respect for each role that is mentioned. I have seen the power of connecting home and school both for the well being of student and family but also for the direct relationship to student achievement. When a parent feels they can talk to the teacher, even incrementally (I did say talk…I am not sure if that means email. Of course if that is the way that talk can happen then so be it. Email comes with its inherent issues and cannot be trusted to convey tone especially in charged situations. I also see an increase in “adult bullying” through this venue. Too many times we go beyond the limits of what we would say in person when we communicate electronically.) with teachers trust is built. Trust…then love, makes the world go around. Trust is built around competence and transparent communication. Engaging families, students, teachers, administrators and community in dialogues and actions that invite parents into our work and inform our practice, building respect, excitement, common vision is crucial to this work of raising kids together. Practically: Do parents know about key ways we teach in our schools? Could they identify them? To what degree do they want to know about it and how can you make that relevant to you families? Do we state clearly our ways of learning in a school so anyone who walks in can see it? Do we invite all members of the community to on-going discussion and activity around this work? Does this work instill a sense of deep pride and excitement about the school. These qualities are essential to truly view “other peoples children” as all of our children.
My next post will deal with this divide between communities and what blinds us to see other peoples’ children have or don’t have and why we should care.