A few months ago, I was privy to a conversation my fellow colleagues were having about the state of education, and how the government doesn’t evenly distribute funds to ensure a proper, equitable education for all. One of the colleagues then reasons, “Well, they may not really want to give certain kids an education. Someone has to fight wars, clean dishes, and do the dirty work in this country, and they may figure that it has to be them … If they really cared, then they’d invest more in the kids.” The room hung their heads. My eyes lit up because I finally found someone in my building who thought exactly what I did. I didn’t reply, though. I needed time to process the meaning.
Now, I got it.
Imagine if we made science and social studies the foci of our curricula instead of English / Language Arts and math. That would mean we’d create more inventors and engaged citizens than automatons who have the basics. In great schools, every subject has approximately the same value, and staff constantly challenge students to make connections between what they’ve learned in other classes and engage in critical dialogue about their prior knowledges. By constantly stressing English and math, we perpetuate an underlying principle for kids: “that’s all you need to know, and the other subjects are “extra credit” in the grand scheme of things.” If students know a certain amount of these two subjects, they can get by as an American citizen, but they’re more likely to work “lower-rung” jobs.
I hate to put this on our current education deformers because it’s a system perpetuated farther back than I’ve been alive. It just makes me think that the more I study education policy, the more I see that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” doesn’t just apply to homophobia in the Armed Forces. We don’t teach students to question the right things. I love a quiet classroom as much as the next person, but if it’s quiet because people are afraid to question the material they’re learning, then I can’t stand by that. In my classroom, I ask kids to ask intelligent questions, having less to do with the number of problems on a test and more with what the content means. I believe that’s not true in most of our schools.
Then again, if the kids ask questions, then that means people will have to find answers. If they start wondering why their father’s been gone for years, why things keep blowing up on the news, why their drinking water’s brown, why there isn’t enough space for them to run inside their own house, why the bills get higher in their house but nothing’s getting fixed, why the men with the suits and smiles only drop by their neighborhood once every four years, or how Christopher Columbus couldn’t have discovered America when people already lived there, then the balances get tipped slightly towards them. A well-informed and focused populace is dangerous to the status quo.
The work we do inevitably triggers thought.
On this Memorial Day, where tons of people have died needlessly at a time when the world needs stronger family structures, I ask for peace. I ask for health. I ask for the troops to come home. I ask for the wisdom to contribute positively to the lives of my children in the classroom. Most importantly, I ask that they learn to ask, and if they don’t get an answer, demand it intelligently. By any means necessary.
Jose, who has always been somewhere between war and peace …