Sunday, July 17, 2011

Que Vaina, or Serious Pet Peeves #2

from On Children  by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.....

My latest Que Vaina! has to do with education.  Elementary education is something that has been much discussed in the news this past year, especially because of the union-busting tactics of the state legislature in Wisconsin, and the cost cutting decisions made by the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie and the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.  Many of us who live in poor communities, even in those that are slowly, or quickly, becoming gentrified, face tough choices when it comes to  choosing schools for our children.  Many people don't have a choice or they don't realize how important an issue this is.

My mother worked in a sweatshop most of the years that she lived in this country.  She was not schooled beyond the third grade, but she knew that education was important.  Some of her younger siblings got the opportunity to get a college education in the Dominican Republic and she watched as their lives improved while she stood behind.  When I was two years old my mother marched in the streets of the South Bronx with other parents who had heard about a program called Head Start.  My first school was the Interested Parents Head Start at the age of  two and a half.   My mom was ambitious about my education and for twelve years after that, that little old lady paid money she barely had so I could go to parochial Catholic schools because the choice of school in our neighborhood was substandard.

My mother was never going to be a wheeler dealer in this country.  She wasn't going to understand the history of the U.S. or our economic system or the intensity of an Edward Albee play.  She wasn't going to fully comprehend the glory of feminist thought.  She had never heard of Freud.  She didn't even have a checking account!  And, even though these things may have been so foreign to her that they could have actually frightened her -  these Twentieth Century, modern,  mainstream, American, independent, forward looking simple things - these were things she wanted me to fully grasp and take advantage of. 

So, when I hear people say things like, "I don't want my daughter going to a "white" school because then she's going to pick up their bad habits,"  or " if your son goes to one of those elite schools aren't you worried he's going to forget who he is?" I get really annoyed.  Every African American, Latino, Asian whatever!!! child is not going to get admitted to  these elite schools, but Ok, I admit it, my daughter goes to an elite private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Ok!  So?

There is an entire world that my little girl is going to be privy to that I never will be.  She will hopefully become a successful person and move away from home and see me once in a while.  Maybe, hopefully she will be a doctor, or a professor or a Wall Street tycoon.  Or not.  But, I will know that I did my best to give her a better education than the one that I got, which to my mother was really a fabulous one.  Every generation has to get better and improve.  If the easiest way for me to help her get to that point is by putting her in a school where she is one of a handful of non-white children, so be it. She will be what she is, not what I need her to be. 

And, why do we automatically believe that segregating ourselves is going to make us love ourselves more?  I get plenty of hatefulness about my blackness from other black people of the Diaspora, and presumably they "know Who they are." Every time a black person says to me, "what are you going to do with that hair?" because I don't relax my hair. Or, every time I hear someone call another person "nigger".  Or, when Puerto Ricans physically attack Mexicans.  Or when Dominicans refuse to vote for someone like Pena Gomez because there's a rumor that he's Haitian.  All these things are hateful to ourselves and its done by us to us. 
The education debate stirring in our country today is not a simple one and I know that I am generalizing somewhat.  There are many ways to look at this, and,  one short opinion piece in a blog is not going to resolve all of the questions. There may be parents who brainwash their children into thinking that anything from the upper middle class white world is better than anything produced by the working class black world and we know that's not true.  There are very, very good public schools in our country and public school teachers do a noble job, they do God's work.  There's no doubt that public education has problems, but honestly, if the testing scores in our neighborhood school were in the 80's rather than the 40's and 50's like they are, my daughter would be in a public school right now.

I love my mother and I appreciate everything she did for me, but I am not like her.  I am a very different person from her and I honestly believe that is how she prayed it would be. 

Listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock's version of the Gibran poem

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