Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Day 148: Arrogance?

State Testing: Day 8 of 14

I had a productive morning!

I updated grades, modified the gravity table to make it more stable and level, and I started into Christopher Emdin's book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood.

Very rarely, even in college, have I annotated a book while reading.  Often, I have the passing thought of "huh! That's interesting. I should remember that!"

It took 4 pages into Chapter 1 before I jumped up to get a highlighter.

I will reserve a full report until after I finish the book, but of all of the things that jumped out at me so far, one has been occupying the forefront of my mind.

I engaged in a Twitter debate with one of these educators recently and was astounded by the fervor with which he defended his school's practice of "cleaning these kids up and giving them a better life."  With that statement, he described everything that is wrong with the culture of urban education and the biggest hindrance to white folks who teach in the hood.  First, the belief that students need "cleaning up" presumes that they are dirty.  Second, the aim of "giving them a better life" indicates that their present life has little or no value.

We want our students to be their best, but this makes me think about how often we actually want them to be OUR best.  I know that all too often, I am guilty of living vicariously through my students.  I want to shield them from the same mistakes that I made.

"Don't do that! I already did it and it didn't turn out well!"

All teachers do this to a certain extent.  We encourage students to study and complete assignments so they can go to college and make a better life for themselves.

Part of me sees this, not as coming from a position of privilege, but as part of the American Dream.  Isn't the whole point to have a better life, to go further than your parents?  I want my children to have a better life than I have.  I want them to be happier and more secure.

But my students are not my children.  I care for many of them as though they are, but that does a disservice to their own families and lives.  Each one of my students has a different dream, a different goal, and who am I to say that my hopes for them are better or more important than their own.

Is this simple adult arrogance?  Do we think that we know better simply because we have lived longer?

Is it a special brand of arrogance that is exclusive to teachers?  Our students are compelled to be in our classes.  We often tell ourselves that they should take advantage of the situation, that it would help them make a better future.  Whether or not this is true, that hardly matters to our students.  They are living their lives now and those lives are SO much more complex than "do your homework and study."

When we say "be a good student," how many of my kids hear "be a white student"?

If I want to help my students achieve their goals, I need to acknowledge that those goals may be so far removed from my own that I can't even recognize them.

A parent forcing their child to take piano lessons because it will make them a well-rounded person may be ignoring that said child is a dancer or painter at heart.

Clearly this book is going to force to go down roads that I need to travel.  Perhaps all teachers do, but I can't set those goals for other people.

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