Posing in a picture on the desktop of my iMac are some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, members of MEChA, a Chicano student organization at Mission Bay High led by Luis Villanueva, a remarkable educator who constantly seeks ways to create learning experiences that are relevant to their lives. Each of them is a budding community leader and exemplary American citizen.
Ah, they look so proud with warm smiles adorning their beautiful brown faces and they have every right to such a feeling considering that they had assumed their positions in a CTA (California Teachers Association) conference room at a fancy hotel in downtown L.A. where they spoke and received a Youth Activism Award that reads:
Peace and Justice
For Outstanding Commitment
to Peace, Social Justice and
the Empowerment of Youth
Peace and Justice
Mission Bay High
To call them friends and to have worked with them and felt their passion in daring to care enough about their world to want to turn it around – well, I consider it one of the honors of my life.
They are so refreshing and inspiring and understanding and they’ve been Johnny on the Spot in the peace movement in San Diego, bringing balance to a situation that’s prevalent in so many schools across our nation: military recruiters all polished and shined showing up and lingering on campuses weaving tall tales about all the wonderful opportunities awaiting students in the armed forces, if they just sign – while, in the background, teenagers, barely older than they are, are waging ill advised illegal wars in the Middle East, dying and being maimed in the process – with no end in sight.
But they watched closely and analyzed what was going on in the schools in their city, especially as it relates to the overwhelming push by the Pentagon to enlist black and brown students, and took active roles in seeking solutions to the problem.
Due to their research and meeting with school board members and mobilizing support at board meetings, San Diego City Schools now has a ground-breaking policy that restricts military recruiters to no more than the same access to high schools that is given to college recruiters. This gives our young people a chance to weigh the pros and cons of making such a serious decision as joining the Few and the Proud and the like free of the added pressure of having Uncle Sam in their faces, seemingly at every turn, in the lunch arbor.
What’s even more special about these young people’s contributions to making their school system more student friendly is that in the years I’ve been working with students from their school there’s been a noticeable lack of support from educators, in general. They, too often, were left to fend for themselves with help only from their MEChA advisor and from community activists like me, a retired school principal, but that wasn’t the case in this situation. SDEA (San Diego Teachers Association) paid their train fare to the conference.
In addition, the president of the association, Bill Freeman, in an email to me, said: “It is so nice to meet kids that have a purpose in life at such a young age. I realize they are just kids, but they were all so respectful. You should be proud of them. They are worth the battles we fight everyday on their behalf.”
Well, I am extremely proud of them and so thankful that an organization in which I have a life membership has linked itself to them and their struggles. Mr. Freeman’s sentiments speak volumes against the notion that teachers are only interested in their own welfare and don’t care about the children, the students. This says, I hope, that my fellow educators are giving credence to the idea that the reason for teaching students the 3 R’s is so they not only know how to read and write and compute but so they also learn firsthand how to carry themselves as American citizens.
These young friends of mine have absorbed such lessons of academics and citizenship well, giving us a hint that the creation of a better world is possible as they prove what I’ve found to be true throughout my career of facilitating learning experiences for young people: good things happen when the voices of students are heard, when they’re allowed to shine. In this case they’ve modeled how those of us who live in a free society must look around, with critical eyes, for what needs to be done and then do it if our way of life is to survive, if hope is to be kept alive.
Following their lead as a society would be wise.