Tuesday, April 10, 2018

And are you happy to see me? In Search of Love in Schools.

I have had the blessing to have many opportunities to visit classrooms on a regular basis in Southern California. I say blessing because of the opportunity this affords me to connect with children and youth and their incredible ability to still be present. They are not yet convinced of the need to wear the straight-jacket the world has tried to place on them. They are still laughing joyously - they still wonder openly - they still touch each other freely with hugs, fist bumps, shoulders crashing into each other reeling from jokes shared - and then, the bell rings and they summarily quiet into a stupor as they sit in rows and wait to be taught. 

Chalkboard with equations
The United States, like most countries in the world, are trying to find the most innovative, rigorous, critically demanding and relevant curriculum and strategies to teach this wonderful, upcoming generation. And in many ways, we've found it. Again and again, I see wonderfully planned, executed and assessed lesson plans. Learning objectives are clear, important information is delivered, students are required to ask relevant questions tied explicitly to the information presented, there is an exit ticket that ties back to the learning objective and still there is a tightness in the air that seems to stifle all the learning that would be had.

This taut stillness seems to suck life out of the air as the period ends and students file out only to come alive again in the hallways where they connect with each other once again.

Why is this?

Teachers, administrators, schools, researchers are all well-intentioned in their efforts to provide a rigorous learning experience in schools, but what of love. Where does love show up in our learning cultures?

In observing classrooms again and again, teachers are directing, instructing; principles are administering and managing; cafeteria and recess aides are ordering and serving - but who is loving? How can we hope to uplift the whole human being if we do not see the whole human being? Because a big part of the whole human being is the love that animates them.

Recently, I have been deeply drawn to learning more about the experience of students in schools that were legally segregated before 1954 in the United States. Many of the elders in my life who were in those schools tell me of a time when teachers loved them. When teachers knew their parents intimately: they were their friends, neighbors, church members and they knew their students were the best of them. They knew their students education was a community effort and when students would rise, the whole community rises. In Vanessa Walker's book, Their Highest Potential, she highlights the belief system that pervaded the school: These kids success is all of our business. And with this belief in front of them, teacher's would stay overtime for professional development, parents would sacrifice financially to ensure the school had all it needs, home visits were part of the home-to-school connection, the entire movement of the community and school were centered around the upliftment of the student. This was not a program or strategy the school was implementing, it was a belief system they centered around. When you believe something, you don't have to think about it, it is evident in all of your actions; it governs your choices; it shapes your language; it infuses all of the spaces you inhabit - including your classroom.

I am not suggesting we return to legally segregated schools, though there is evidence we are more segregated now than before when it was legal. The time of seeing each other as separate tribes and people is rapidly coming to an end. We are one people, one race and the recognition of this truth is quickly unfolding in its stead. The scientific evidence of the oneness of humanity has been unequivocally proven. It is not a matter of hard science or strategies we are after, it is a matter of the human heart and this is more delicate work. Because the oneness of humanity has to become a belief system. When you believe something you are invested - remember it is infused in everything you do. And so if I believe in the oneness of humanity, than it is all learning animated by love. For I want to know about you, learn with you, from you...because I know, you bring something of great value to the table, as do I.

How can we learn from these communities that have not only survived, but flourished despite the odds against them? The peoples of African descent have been under the yoke of oppression the world over due to colonialism and the instrument of whiteness it used to measure the worth and value of human beings, allowing it to perpetuate enslavement securing free labor. The indigenous peoples of the Americas who's land was given freely to European males, while they were displaced and their profound knowledge of natural sciences destroyed, continue to be pushed to the fringes of society always their name - Indio - said with a bitter taste in the mouth. And the people of Asian descent, who try to balance the dangerous walk of assimilation and preservation - assimilating to a country's dominant culture to survive, while staying connected to their ancestral heritage. And what of those of European descent, who refuse to forget the injustices that were done to others in their name? Who strive to find their roots and honor their ancestors resistance to oppression, by calling out the beast out loud, who expects them to also be loyal to whiteness.
Image of women seeing reflections of herself

En Lak Ech, they all say! Tu eres mi otro yo - you are the other me. And when we believe this and it infuses how we show up to the world - then if I disagree with something you have done or said - my response is, let me learn more. Tell me more about your experience. There is something I do not know or understand that has led you to say what you are saying and I want to understand. Or at minimum, be present and listen to the other me.

When I walked out of those classrooms I couldn't help but wonder what I would be thinking if I was one these students walking into the class. After all the learning objectives and strategies and think-pair-shares...I would want to know - and are you happy to see me?

Because after all, I think we all want to be bearers of joy and my job as the adult in your life, is to see you. En Lak Ech!

For a podcast of this blog post click here: The Human Experience