Denise Oliver-Velez, who commented in my last blog about the Young Lords anniversary and reunion gathering, said something poignant that educators like myself should take heed to in their quest to educate underprivileged and underserved children in this country (of any color). The average age of a Young Lord in the Young Lord Party’s prime was about 17 years old, the youngest 12. While many of the people I’ve encountered who consider themselves activists came to this new consciousness around college, the people of that generation were already starting free breakfast programs, starting a liberation school, taking over hospitals, cleaning out (and subsequently burning) piles of garbage, all in the name of self-sufficiency and making sure the people of that neighborhood had their needs met. Come to think of it, most of the groups people in this country consider radical / revolutionary started with young people.
The lack of information about these historical groups in our present-day curriculi demonstrates how those who’ve written the history books care less about the empowerment of our students and more about keeping them docile and complacent. While some may dispute the merits of taking over a church or bringing AK-47s to guard your people (I’m not one of them), these young people at the time brought services to the people that our generation and beyond took for granted. They helping bring along those basic, socialist services, and they didn’t stop there. As they got older, they graduated into more far-reaching work, like the heads of unions, broadcasters, university professors, and politicians. In other words, these young people continue to be effective contributors to society as a whole.
In turn, as a teacher, I find it disingenuous that teachers really don’t believe in the potential of our youth. Those very kids who are so-called thugs and vagabonds are really intelligent, energetic young folk who need a chance at really making a difference in naming and transforming their worlds. While many of our students need that tough love, and a no-nonsense attitude, we must also prepare them to become active and responsible citizens for their own neighborhoods so they can become self-sufficient. Our test-ready notions of reading and arithmetic without any holistic child-building almost begs our future generations to become what our society calls delinquents and social lepers.
If we as teachers either work against building up students or stand to the side while it happens, we’re complicit in this. Paulo Freire, of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed fame, gives us a question to think about:
Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.
That’s really where I stand. While I think too many educators are far too touchy-feely-save-the-world-y, I also see that this as a labor of love, and an understanding that the very children I’m preparing for in a couple of weeks, that we constantly battle for, and the children who some of us literally give our hearts and minds for, NEED to be young lords of a kingdom solely under their sovereignty.
Jose, who thinks people confuse my ideals for idealism …