Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Teaching in an Obama world

Pretty amazing being in school today with students so excited about national politics.

I didn't do anything different, except briefly ask students if they watched all the returns. Most did, some shared stories about crying or moms or grandmothers crying, some wore buttons or t-shirts. We talked for a while about witnessing history and going to see the inaugeration, about high expectations for Obama and the fact that now he has to meet those expectations, and then moved back to Romeo and Juliet.

I hope I can organize some sort of trip down to see the inaugeration. Could be easy - just jump on the MARC train and head down. It's probably going to be a big mess down there, but if I'm not driving and each adult is only responsible for a few kids, then it could work. I would even consider taking a personal day so I can do something like that; otherwise, I'm guessing too many other teachers would want to do it and substitutes would be an issue.

As a citizen, I've never voted for a politician before that I really trust to make sound decisions regardless of the situation. I've never voted for anyone whose thoughtfulness and reflectiveness, combined with his knowledge of the Constitution and communities and education, make me excited about the direction of the nation and its people, even as times darken around us. For those reasons, I'm thrilled at the victory of President-elect Obama.

However, as a teacher, my support has a different tint. From a policy standpoint, I expect a smarter No Child Left Behind, and am excited about the ideas about service in education that I have heard from Obama. However, the real excitement comes from a more subjective view - I teach primarily African-American students, and they are students who have often been beaten down by life. Most are below the poverty line. Many do not have stable home lives. And while most will be first-generation college students, the vast majority don't understand the connection between hard work now and future earnings later, and most just don't see education as the path to upward mobility that they should. The pull of the violent streets, or the pull of having a child young like their mother and grandmother before them, and the pull of instantaneous easy money all tug at them insistently. Seeing Barack Obama, a brilliant, bi-partisan and inclusive politician, ascend to the Presidency from humble beginnings, through grit and determination and inclusiveness and hard work, can give them a sense of hope that they might not have had before. They no longer have the excuse that they shouldn't try hard because society won't let them succeed anyway; rather, they see that hard work is a mandatory part of success, and that anything is possible.

Now, Barack, you can't let us, or them, down.


Claus von Zastrow said...

A very thought-provoking post. Do you think Obama's victory might also make students of color feel less disaffected with the political process? In interviews we published on our site last week, researcher Meira Levinson and Louisville superintendent Shelley Berman both suggested that Obama's victory might motivate students to become more engaged in civic activity. Schools, they argue, can take advantage of this opportunity. Your thoughts?

deirdre said...

Isn't Inauguration Day considered to be a federal holiday? If so, you might want to call MARC first before making plans. They recently eliminated all holiday service (I had to take Amtrak yesterday to get to work) because of budget cuts. Still, they might make an exception for Inauguration Day since so many people will be heading down there.