As outdated as our education system is, we are still much better off than most other countries. I forget that sometimes. I think my students often forget that in this country, a child born into poverty can jump into the middle or upper class simply by going to school everyday and doing what they're supposed to be doing. So why isn't the system built to effectively convey this incredible opportunity? [insert conspiracy theory here]
One of the more challenging questions I've asked myself this year is how the hell did I make it out of this system, given I grew up under some incredibly challenging circumstances? Most of my students and I share childhood trauma which has forced us to "grow up" a lot faster than others.
I think it all comes down to the coping mechanisms we create to deal with our shit.
One of my earliest childhood memories of room involves my mother sitting on a chair planted right against the bedroom door. My father, in his drunken rage, is trying his best to break through the door to get to her. He's yelling dirty, terrible things at the both of us. Meanwhile, my mother sits firmly in the chair, looking calm and stoic. She's sipping her cup of Lipton tea and tells me to put the TV on and turn up the volume. I do as I'm told and get back to playing pretend with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Donatello is about to save the day because Raphael and Leonardo couldn't stop bickering with each other and now the Shredder has them hostage.
I only had a few, small requests from my mother growing up: be good, get rich, and save her from her terrible life. No pressure. I guess I decided at a very young age that school was something I not only needed in order to "get rich" but it was apparently good for me in another way as well.
School was my escape.
I went everyday. There was something extremely comforting about the bell schedule. I knew exactly when every period started and ended. I liked hallways by department. My notebooks were organized with incredible detail. I liked reading the syllabus of every class over and over again. There's an unusual warmth in knowing the exact dates for exams and projects well in advance. There were routines in place to make me feel at ease from beginning to end. School's safe, simple structure sedated the chaos that grew within me whenever it was time to go home.
How did I make it out alive? I got lucky in how I dealt with my surroundings. The bulk of the students my school takes in deal with problems a little differently than me. I confronted a student in my first period class about why he came to school stoned:
"Brian, what was so necessary about smoking up before coming to school? That can't be enjoyable. Wouldn't you rather be at home during your wake-and-bake?"
"Mista, it just be like that sometimes. Today was one of those days."I get it now. I guess I always got it, but now I truly understand. We're not really that different, are we kids?