River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 25 2012

I’m Tired Of Playing (Hunger) Games

Back in the summer before 7th Grade, I had just finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book #4) when the first movie was set to come out. Personally, I was irritated because I had been made fun of for reading the series but by the time the movies came out, all of sudden Harry Potter was deemed “cool!” Yeah, okay, whatever. I eventually watched the movie but seeing the Hollywood portrayals of the characters (and hearing the correct pronunciation of “Hermione”) really killed my imaginative vibe; I would boycott the series for the next year or two until I felt that the enjoyment I got from reading the books outweighed my anti-fad sentiment.

Fast-forward to 2012, I finally caught up somewhat with the whole Hunger Games mania. Only this time, I’m on the other side of the fan fence, since I haven’t read the books. I know many TFA teachers who have had their kids read the book and then went to see the movie. Controversy aside, it’s pretty cool to see these literary connections being formed. I’d like to think that I’ll now go pick up the book, but it’s unlikely anytime soon…

Without ruining the movie for anyone, I have to say that the parallels to real life thoroughly disturbed me. Last week, I was in a bad mood because I was comparing my placement school to the charters I had seen in New Orleans, which is probably a losing battle. It’s not that I was lamenting my own working conditions, but I was primarily upset that my students aren’t the advocates for their own education that I want them to be. When I told my fourth period about the level of rigor I saw in NOLA, the first student to respond asserted that those students worked hard “because they were white.” When I informed him that the students were actually black and Hispanic, he told me that they were “under the spell of white people.” Admittedly, I lost my generally calm composure by replying: “if graduating from high school, getting a college degree, and having a well-paying job means ‘being under the spell of white people,’ then I suggest you find yourself a white person as soon as possible!”

Man, I was ticked off! To be fair, the majority of my students do not associate hard work only with white and Asian people, but too many still do. They attend a school that is 99% black and 99% poor (read: segregated), so some of their misconceptions are warranted. Bottom line, I still have a hard time reconciling my personal experience with those of my students. I don’t know how I would have survived if I had internalized negative stereotypes about black people. This just kills me! Sometimes, I feel like a joke is being played on me. As if the powers that be are laughing at my futile attempts to change the trajectories of, or merely make a difference in the lives of my students in the Delta.  It’s as if they’re sneering, saying: “look at that young man, he thinks he can change things, let’s give him just a little bit of hope!” When, ultimately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’m tired of playing games.

Someone is benefiting from all of this. Like the Hunger Games, I wonder if seeing the plight of low-income children is entertaining to some people in positions of power. How is being deprived of the opportunity to attain an excellent education not unlike being placed in an arena where you are 96% certain to meet your demise? I can’t shake this feeling that my kids are set up for failure and I’m just along for the ride with them. The longer I stay down here the angrier I get. The more I read about education reform in large, urban areas the angrier I get. We know what works but we insist on force-feeding that which doesn’t work. Why? Who benefits? Who is being entertained by the metaphorical slaughter of my children?

Society is going to need to answer some tough questions quickly; namely, are we okay with a society where a child’s future is left up to chance? I love what many charter schools are doing and would love to learn more about them; however, personally, I’m not okay with a charter school lottery being a semi-valid predictor of whether a low-income minority student has a chance to succeed in life? Are you kidding me? One day, all children may truly have the opportunity to attain an excellent education, until then:

“May the odds be ever in your favor”

One Response

  1. Congratulations! I’m actually wiitrng a paper for my social problems class about the idea that our education system is failing. Teachers are the core of the education system. Programs like this are the keys to improving our education system. Best of luck!

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

Mississippi Delta
Middle School

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