One of the most beautiful, rewarding principles, and indeed promises of public education, is our call to every child and every family, to come to school: Just as you are! We don’t care how, and why you came to the school; only that you are now in school. I have explained to so many nervous parents over the years, that my role as principal was not one of an extension of the government’s immigration enforcement efforts. And many (I have heard) high school principals have had to effectively deal with their own creative version of the “Dream Act”. It happens when some of their very capable students reach their junior year, and must now face the prospects of applying for college, when either they, or their parents don’t have the “appropriate” residency status. The principal is usually alerted to this situation when the college advisor comes into your office and says: “We need to talk?” (That opening statement almost always means that she is not bringing you good news). She is alerted to the student’s problem because the student is not turning in the scheduled college application process “documents”; and it is a student who faithfully follows the school’s rules, and that definitely includes when it comes to academic opportunity. There is then a meeting with the advisor the principal and the student, in what is often a very tearful session, the truth is revealed by the student. I often thought that these tears were a combination of being relieved to finally be able to tell the truth to people you trust, and you know care about you (imagine a teenager keeping and carrying this heavy and difficult secret for so many years); but also the tears are because of the uncertainty of what the future holds for them. Their dream for so many years of school was to attend college, and by doing so, give themselves a chance to realize their true human gifts and talents. These are some of the most difficult moments in education, when one faces the very heart and meaning of that Langston Hughes poem; “A Dream Deferred”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
And it is also the best moments in education when you can make those dreams possible, and change the course of a single human’s history for the better; in the service of a better nation.
Last night the POTUS properly presented himself as the: “History Teacher-In-Chief” when he reminded some of our more exclusionary and hard-hearted fellow citizens; that they also are not too far removed generationally from an immigrant status themselves. A welcoming nation let their ancestors in; provided them, and/or their children with a free education, and allowed them (and you) to enjoy one of the best standard of life on the planet. Don’t now pull the ladder up, and away from those still stuck below, who are now like you once were; struggling for survival and a chance at a decent life; a hope for a better future for their children through education. But Mr. Obama was also correct in emphasizing (and putting a face on) the importance of education as a transformational experience, that can move people from mere existence, to the full realization of their human potential. To be the authors and actors in the promise and progress of the human experience. As an African American educator, I can’t parse and hedge on my commitment to full human rights for all oppressed, disenfranchised and disinherited people. We must be the model, and the national leaders of tolerance, inclusion, compassion and the concern for the “left-out”, “kicked-out” and “kept-out”. For who but us in this nation, is more aware of the pain and suffering of that status; who is better acquainted with having our dreams and hopes denied? The big lie of the selfish corporate cultural thinking, is that the poor and disadvantaged must fight each other for jobs for which these obscene profiteers refuse to pay a decent living wage. Don’t believe it. (And definitely don’t believe that Republicans suddenly want Black Americans to have employment opportunities in this nation) There is more than enough wealth in this country to put everyone to work, who wishes and is able to work. And for sure, we as a nation have been blessed with enough natural and intellectual resources to educate every child who has a dream to be educated. Let us support the President’s efforts!