The second day of our trip, my family and I traveled out of the Delta and went through Cleveland, home of Delta State University, up to Memphis. Once in Memphis, we visited Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. This mansion-turned-museum was enlightening and I learned a lot about the man known as “the King.” True to form, I couldn’t help but take away a few key lessons from my visit.
1.) Make Your Own Mobility: Opportunity “In The Ghetto”
America is the land of equal opportunity but opportunities are not equal everywhere. Elvis was born in a small shotgun house in Tupelo, Mississippi. It’s very telling, however, that his small town parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in search of greater opportunities and prosperity for their family. I recently attended the Opportunity Nation Summit in New York City, which focused on the issue of social mobility in America. Would there be an Elvis had he stayed in Tupelo? Moreover, how many potential Elvis’ have we missed out on because they were forced to languish in an opportunity desert?
2.) Do Your Thing: Haters Gon’ Hate like a “Hound Dog”
Elvis was successful despite the many critics who were offended by his hip-shaking dance moves and “sexual” signing. Nonetheless, Elvis stayed true to his unique style (albeit some setbacks) and used his intuition to navigate his way to commercial success and worldwide, cross-genre appeal. He did this by focusing on his audience, the kids, and delivering what they desired. Perhaps teachers should do the same thing in education by focusing on the students and ignoring all the pundits and “experts”
3.) Remember that Money Still Rules: $$$ = “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
The same people who were Elvis’ harshest critics (I’m looking at you Ed Sullivan) couldn’t get enough of him once they saw how much money they could make off of him. I’m torn about this. Elvis did well for himself, for the most part, but he still had to buy into the system of cut throat record companies, and has a slightly tainted legacy due to controversies over race and ownership of music. In education, just as in music, money talks. If you can generate more dollars, you become more valuable. On the flipside, if you have more money to begin with, your opinion is infinitely more valuable and your level of influence is magnified over essentially anything. For more information, see Bill Gates.
4.) Family Matters: “It’s Alright Now Mama”
Having my family down in the Delta was amazing, and not just because of the Thanksgiving Meal. Family is vital and incredibly important; Elvis knew that, which is why he had his parents move in with him. Most of my students who have the biggest issues in school have the least support at home. I still haven’t figured out how to best bridge the gap in familial support, but I’m trying to be a positive male role model and father figure for the boys who have none.
5.) The Best People are Down to Earth: “You Were Always on my Mind”
One thing I learned about Elvis was his dedication to helping others through charitable causes and benefit concerts. I think this is because of his twin who died at birth. I hold the conviction that people who experience tragedy and/or are exposed to human suffering early on hold those experiences close to them and are more likely to “give back” if they strike it rich. But it goes beyond “giving back.” Living with empathy for others should be a way of life and is for these people, not merely a means to advance a career…
6.) Take Care of Business: “A Little Less Conversation…”
As I reflect on Elvis’ Graceland, I think about my students, and the opportunities they will and won’t have. I question the merits of standardized testing and TFA, just as I question the merits of charter schools and unions. Our system scares me; it scares me because it’s so incredibly flawed and yet someone is benefitting at the top. Even if I end up leaving my placement school at the end of this year, I’m committed to righting this injustice for the sake of students, myself, and everyone in search of a better life- American Dream or otherwise.