Education, Uncategorized

For love of public schools: This is what we’re fighting for

kindergarten My public elementary school in Lakewood, Colorado was a red brick building. Here is something amazing: for a while, there was a glorious fort in the library with two levels (an upstairs?! Imagine the joy) and piles of pillows. There were poster board stars hanging from the ceiling of that library, covered in aluminum foil to make them look shiny and important. Each noted the names of students who had passed spelling tests because spelling was a Big Deal. The Dukane projectors provided private showings of The Solar System or Great Plains Indians one slide at a time with cassette tape soundtracks. Our principal, Dr Doll, was a firm and fierce tiny-boned woman who insisted “I want every eye on me” and holy lord, if that administrator wasn’t a great role model for being a badass woman in charge.

 

School was wonderful and it was life. My classroom’s incubating chicken eggs did not hatch at all one year. Total bust. But still, year in and year out I was the type of child who reveled in my workbooks and rejoiced in my Trapper Keepers and closely guarded my favorite Hello Kitty mechanical pencil.

 

Not everyone was the same. Every year my class was a motley crew. I was a Green Frog one year. Not everyone was a Green Frog. Some were Yellow Ducks and Brown Bears. But there we all were, the kids with peeled-crust sandwiches and the kids with free lunch tickets, the kids who guarded Hello Kitty pencils like I did, kids with every sort of last name. Bear Creek Elementary had a place for everyone.

 

I had the same teacher for my final two years at that school. Mr. Pyle was only five feet tall, about my height then, but he looked like he could bench press a few. He was balding with a gray mustache and was a stickler for discipline, following directions, and penmanship. My friend and I memorized “The Spider and the Fly” and performed it in class, and we built a robot using a shower head and other odds and ends we found in my dad’s basement workroom. Our class completed an entire weeks-long unit on baboons, of all things. Mr. Pyle was a fiend for complete sentences and his book reports went on for pages. He challenged a sixth grader to a pumpkin pie making contest and attributed his popular-vote victory to his precision in following the recipe. He admitted he had never traveled anywhere but Kansas and Colorado, but he had a reverence for books and information that was contagious.

 

When I graduated from high school six years later, Mr. Pyle showed up at my doorstep. Although I was nearly 18 years old, I found this embarrassing, the reality that teachers are humans who continue to exist off campus still seeming debatable. He congratulated me on my achievements and gave me a gift: a book of Bible verses. Thinking about Mr Pyle, this gift wasn’t a shock – that love of discipline and decorum probably did dovetail pretty well into adherence to religion. But I have to give the man credit – he never betrayed his Christian faith in his classroom. We were at a public school, and his job was teaching us to multiply negative numbers and keep a clean desk and give oral reports on the Siberian Tiger. It was not to teach us those Bible verses.

 

Again: not everyone was the same. There was a place for everyone at Bear Creek Elementary. There was a boy in my classrooms through the years who pulled out his own hair. There were kids with various special needs, some of whom were in separate classrooms and some, like the hair-puller, who weren’t. There were jokers and math whizzes and the Latina trio that performed Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That” at the school talent show with matching shirts that read “No Can Do” on the back. There were kids who moved away before they could settle in and the kids from the “Luxury Apartments” near the school.

 

Those were not luxury apartments. I’ve always been proud to be a product of public schools, beautiful and diverse and complex and successful public schools. The Green Frogs and the Yellow Ducks and the Brown Bears are now teachers and accountants and bankers and veterans. They are making decisions, building, repairing, doing research and leading. They are parents and taxpayers and neighbors.

 

There needs to be a place for everyone, regardless of circumstances and resources, regardless of belief systems or ability. And here’s another thing that’s as amazing as that library fort: we are better together. We learn from each other. I’m better for having been in class with the boy who pulled out his hair.

 

So to those who would undermine our proud public school system and its principles: no can do. Let’s lavish our public schools, and every Green Frog, Yellow Duck, and Brown Bear within them with our patriotic pride. I grew up in a country in which boys and girls, learners of every pace and style, six-minute milers and 18-minute milers, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and None of the Aboves were all deemed worthy of my nation’s time and effort. In this era, we cannot each flee to our own distant outposts and figure everybody else is not our problem. There is not a problem. Together, we are abundant in riches.

 

 

 

Standard
Love, Politics, Uncategorized

Thoughts on What Awaits Us

ugly-couchMy thoughts on what awaits us:

Not long after my dog and I set out on a late afternoon walk today, we strode past the home of the childcare provider who cared for each of my children in past years. It being around 5:00 and therefore pickup time, there were three cars in the driveway. Two of the moms engaged in a familiar ritual: standing with the car doors open while chatting. In the third car, I noticed a toddler buckled into her car seat. She was waving repeatedly, a low and anguished wave, moaning “Bye, bye, bye.” Her face was scrunched up in outrage.

Sigh. I can relate, little baby. I have felt like that for weeks, seeing story after story of farewell speeches from the Obamas, last gestures, that Medal of Freedom the president gave Biden. Now I’m buckled into my car seat and despondent and my hair is a mess and my nose is running and I’m just on autopilot saying bye, bye, bye. I opened my back patio door the night Obama first won in 2008 and screamed in joy. I freely acknowledge that I’ve been crushing on Michelle Obama for, what, a good nine years now. I know if she were a mom I met through our children of the same age, and we ended up chatting at a school function, I’d be grinning well past the time we parted. I might stop to think, gosh, I am still grinning. I have been grinning for a *while* now.

I’m still grinning. That woman is glorious. But times change. My 42 years of life have seen plenty of changes. My childhood photos now uniformly look a bit orange and grainy (was anything ever in focus?) and we’re all wearing huge and high collars and swooping lacy hems that now look ridiculous. My parents had two sofas in a row that may qualify for the ugliest piece of furniture ever produced, featuring big brown plant-like shapes with rust accents and then deep, fuzzy, stone-cold-serious plaid. When I was pregnant with my first child, we decided that we should probably go ahead and get a cell phone (!) for my husband. This prudent precautionary measure would ensure he could be reached if I had an emergency. Mark Zuckerberg was a high school kid at the time. The other day my son, always full of middle school silliness and possessing his own sharp sense of humor, joked that he hadn’t done something “Since ‘Nam.” What? Hey child, I was the one who grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War era and made joking references to my ‘Nam years. Last week, a tiny but hardy PHONE BOOK was delivered to our driveway. This deeply aspirational offering made me stop and stare. Valuable coupons inside, it promised. I wanted to take selfies with it and cradle it like a baby but instead I left it on the driveway and my husband chucked it into the recycle bin. Times have changed. Apparently, not everyone gets all the memos.

Watching the changes on the sociopolitical scene unfold these past two months still seems like watching an entertaining but derivative movie in which the good guys are threatened by the sinister forces who want to do away with everything that seems, well, somehow not that controversial – low-cost healthcare clinics women can access, not coldly turning away cancer survivors and diabetics who want to purchase health insurance, keeping public schools open and thriving, supporting the arts, letting LGBT people snuggle into adorable urban lofts and plan weddings and put a ton of sunscreen on their toddler children. I’m expecting a scene soon in which a heartbreakingly precious baby owl is juuuuust starting to fall asleep in its nest and then some sort of bulldozer comes and the owlet’s eyes pop open and it flaps and flaps and flaps its little owlet wings while the bulldozer pushes the tree down. While watching this movie I might think, well this is a bit campy and over the top and, it now being 2017, unrealistic. Jabba the Hutt debuted decades ago and that oversexed gross villain thing has been done to death by now.

But here we are. Times change. Apparently the pendulum swings back. There’s been a lot of consternation among many people I hold dear. I don’t know what to say except that well, here we all go. Six and a half years ago I was on one of my rare solo travels, visiting my beloved Colorado like I am wont to do. I left a visit with one dear friend and headed south toward Denver to visit two other dear friends, Allison and Jill. Midway there, on the Boulder turnpike, suddenly I was braking and then I was actually spinning, turning the wrong way. I remember thinking, oh wow, so this is me having a car accident. This is real life happening right now.

My trajectory ended next to a concrete boundary on the side of the highway with me facing approximately northwest when I had been driving southeast. I didn’t really understand what had happened. I think I even explained that I had hit the concrete, except that I totally hadn’t. A witness pulled over and did not help the situation by becoming upset on my behalf and asking repeatedly if I was hurt. All that happened to me was that some water spilled and I broke a toenail. Then there was a traffic jam forming, and police officers and an ambulance and me assuring everyone everywhere that I was uninjured. Of course I cried. I apparently called Allison and Jill, because within what felt like a mere 17 seconds there they were. I can still feel my relief. My god. Familiar faces. Competent faces. One of them laughed at the fact that I had frosted mini wheats in the car. Thank you and thank you for teasing me for my frosted mini wheats.

So now here we all are, and stepping into this new era feels like the brake and spin of that moment of my life. We’ve all together been hit by an unlicensed driver in a Ford F250 while driving a tiny rental car and now we’re spinning and this direction is for sure not the direction we were just going in. I take solace in the fact that on my 300-degree spin, I managed to hit no other vehicle. That still seems implausible – there had been a fair amount of traffic heading into Denver at rush hour. And while I was a confused and tearful mess, soon my friends were there. I don’t know at all how they drove up from the south and turned around and navigated the traffic jam and were there to hug me within 17 seconds and then handled everything while I pretty much contemplated clouds and the sun setting. I was okay. That poor rental KIA only had about 700 miles on it before it was totaled but I was okay.

So I think, while we all wave dolefully at the outgoing administration and murmur bye, bye, bye, bye, that we really are going to be okay. The mama owls are going to get enraged and even the owlets are gonna be plucky and put on goggles and come back at the bulldozers. We’re all talking. We’re realizing some stuff. We’re marching. The background music is starting to take on a triumphant tone and the montage is coming in which the diabetics and the gay dads and the little girls and the disenfranchised and the people fielding the threats at the JCCs are all going to join the righteous owl mamas and turn again in the direction every heart knows is right, where there is equality and voice and respect and access and kindness. First the Ford F250 with the unlicensed driver was tailgating us, and today it hit and we spin. Here we all go. We spin together.

Standard