Now, I’m not a big fan of “State of” kinds of speeches. Most times they leave me with a feeling of “Now, that was some BS I could have spared myself.” But it was a joy the other night listening to Richard Barrera, the President of the San Diego City Schools Board of Education, share his thoughts on schools being community based in a refreshing non-preachy conversational tone as opposed to the usual empty tome that politicians usually read verbatim at such occasions in coma inducing tones.
His rap resonated with me because as an educator I can say, from having been “part of” creating some fairly dynamic learning environments in my time, that it can’t be done with out tons of input from the “hood.” I mean what is the purpose of education if not to empower communities, the stakeholders?
Richard talked about making education relevant to learners’ lives and I had to give a high five to that notion because I’ve also discovered over the years that if a lesson isn’t relevant it most likely isn’t a lesson – it’s more like knowing the Month day and year when Lewis And Clark set out on their expedition but having no clue who Lewis and Clark were or what an expedition is, causing you to wonder: what does this have to do with me?
Rarely does someone speak to my heart and validate my educational thoughts and philosophies as Richard did that night. I drove home feeling so mellow, so hopeful, and then a picture that had been blotted out by Richard’s powerful presentation surfaced in my mind: a picture of two members of a JROTC Color Guard, marching crisply and sharply and “presenting arms” before a young girl ingrained herself in our hearts with her rendition of the National Anthem.
But the image of teenagers with guns, whether they’re gang bangers or someone aspiring to become an Army of One, just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s so unnecessary and primitive and it makes our “no excuses, no exceptions” Zero Tolerance Laws against weapons in our schools ring ever so hollow.
Makes no sense to me how we can get so energized over things like test scores and class size and barely blink an eye as military recruiters hang out at our schools with our children shooting the breeze almost whenever they please. What prevents us from asking school officials “Now, why do we have JROTC?” We just go along with the tale that it isn’t really about encouraging our children to become the Few or the Proud as much as it’s about teaching them discipline – while the Department of Defense hails it as “one of the best recruitment programs we could have.” And what does snapping to, just because somebody says to, really have to do with discipline? And is this what our children need if they’re to grow up and turn this rascal of a world around?
Oh, but hope rings in the air. I’ve had the privilege and honor of working with a number of wonderful young people from Lincoln and Mission Bay High over the past couple of years who made it so that schools can no longer, as many had been doing, enroll students into JROTC involuntarily. They also have made sure that the district fully informs students and parents about what JROTC is before they sign on. Next: getting the district to create policies regarding recruiting of any kind on school campuses. How’s that for community involvement, young people realizing that “Democracy,” as MoveOn.org says, “is not a spectator sport.”
But we, as a community, when it comes to the militarization of our children, should look into removing as many symbols of war as we can from our schools because, even if we believe in war and the like, we have to know that the wars in which our country is involved presently are illegal to the core. There’s no international law that allows a country to just go off somewhere and depose the leader of another country, no matter that he’s a horrible human being like Saddam Hussein. And searching caves and chasing thugs down in billion dollar SWAT operations, well, is that something thousands of our teenagers and other young adult sons and daughters should be doing?
Nothing would be more relevant to our children’s education than us grownups looking at our world closely and creating learning experiences that inspire them to think creatively, critically and multi-culturally which is a stark contrast to what the military instills in their psyches. And I throw in helping them think “artistically” as the icing on the cake. The arts should be at the center of our children’s education because it’s through the arts that they best get insights into their own thinking and therefore discover who they are and what they have to offer the world – that pretty much is what it’s all about.
Any community that thinks like that will find that what they create for their children will not only be academically sound but also enriching for their souls, not to mention tons of fun for everyone. I know. As an educator that’s pretty much what I’ve done.