Updated: Jun 7, 2020
My education work is informed by years of study and research, but also a poster that hung in the hallway of my graduate school. I would pass it each day on my way to my little teaching assistant office, and it got me every time:
“It’s not enough to prepare our children for the world,
we must prepare the world for our children.”
--Luis Rodriguez, American poet
I carried this sentiment with me daily as a grad student seeking to understand BOTH individual children's learning needs AND large school and societal systems.
I strove to couple my insights about personal development with the broader context, studying the structures of our institutions and history.
I had already been committed to economic justice as a school and community social worker, moving in my 20s from the low-income neighborhood center of economically-depressed South Bend to a poor rural school district in Georgia to the diverse urban schools of south Minneapolis. It was in this last role that my office was on E. Lake Street--three blocks from where George Floyd was killed last week.
Decades later, I still strive to simultaneously prepare children AND prepare the world that they’ll enter. How can we fix that world? The stark reality of racism and criminalized poverty demands that there’s much more work to do. This is not the version of the world I want for my children or any of the students I know and love. So, with that grad school mantra in mind, I ask myself: what must I do next?
Well, for starters, “when you know better, [you] do better” (Maya Angelou). Because I don’t know what I don’t know, I’m committing to even more learning and unlearning; for example, I've begun studying with Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn. I’m working to increase my competence and confidence in race dialogue, which I do in my teaching but not as well as I can. I am looking at the world’s event with a crisper lens of injustice. In other words, I’m going to do better at preparing the world for our children.
And I’m continuing my commitment to preparing the children too:
I know that each person plays a role, and no one does it all or does it alone or does it right all the time. So, I see one of my primary roles in social change as cultivating individual potential as students come up through their schooling and become adults, become citizens, become community members who will continue the progress any of us start.
I say to each of them: Listen. We need you.
And I mean it. I mean it that each student’s success and life is necessary to the future of this world. My own life and success depends on your thriving. We need you, I say. And I mean it, because I am also guided by this quote:
Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Another thing I learned in graduate school was that racial prejudice is most effectively reduced through education. To this end, I am moved to see that books like “How to Be an Antiracist” and “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race” sold out at bookstores across the US this week. Good people want to know what they don’t know and do better.
As parents, educators, friends, peers, we shape the world that is evolving around us. While I have been crushed by sadness this week, I also feel inspired: Change is possible. Learning from mistakes is possible. A better world for the next generation is possible, and we all need each of us to do it.
The photograph in this blog was taken in St. Paul, MN, by Nathan Aguirre, who gives permission to share it with attribution. It was taken during the protests after George Floyd was killed in police custody on May 25, 2020. The location is not too far from the campus where I teach. The unnamed student in the photo is in cap and gown, having a home graduation due to COVID19 restrictions, with burning buildings behind him and a newly graduated future ahead of him. I can’t imagine a photograph more emblematic of our times.