Thursday, May 8, 2008

Canon Ball Target Practice

Tonight was Small Child's end-of-year school Arts Night program, which doubled as a "farewell" for the campus; the district, in its infinite wisdom, is closing a perfect little neighborhood school with a long history of excellence and moving children to a megalomentary.

She sang in the chorus, among all kinds of faces: Hispanic children, Native American children, African American children, children of privilege, children of poverty, gifted children, children who struggle to read.  This true diversity was apparent during performances and presentations by the Art Club, the Dynamic Drummers, and the Jump Rope Team.  

For these children, the "shared texts" were clear: love, success, creativity, community, rhythm, motion, paint, sound.

By the time they reach college, though, they will likely carry canon shrapnel in their numb butts.

In a comment on Tuesday's post, RedMolly wrote:

Does thinking a shared cultural heritage strengthens our society mean I'm a crypto-paleo-conservative in training? Damn...
In three words  - shared cultural heritage -  she summons all the casualties of all the culture wars I've lived through in all my years of education. Hell, I might as well go all the way.  She nails the root cause of most conflict, doesn't she. 

It all comes down to who defines those three words.

Tuesday, I complained bitterly about the lack of a common knowledge base. Today, as is so often the case, the Universe did not so much as correct me as remind me that I might actually be setting the bar too low.

Student X enrolled in my writing class this spring. She (I have changed most identifying details) is the American-born child of immigrants who left middle class careers in their native land to give their yet-unborn children better educational opportunities. Together they own a small business, one which you might consider quite stereotypical. While she speaks an Asian language at home, the student speaks English fluently although her writing is disordered in the usual ways. She plans to attend medical  school in three years, and I have no doubt she will gain admission. 

Snore. This is the most predictable story ever.

Not so fast.

What is your "shared cultural heritage" when you are, say, a Laotian-American Pentecostal first-generation pre-med at a liberal college in the Bible Belt?

One of the pleasures of this term has been watching as this young man (HA! I switched those identifying details again when you weren't looking) has discovered that he can use his quite gifted brain in ways he has never been encouraged to do. He's learned that he can explore and evaluate his beliefs without  abandoning them and he can do so in conversation with people who do not share his worldview. This is a revelation, no pun intended.

He will find Marx and Freud and Mill and Darwin (gasp!) and Plato and Nietzsche and all the other dead white guys.  He may even find Buddha and other thinkers of "his" cultural heritage. But he will do so because he is hungry for them. 

What are we doing as parents, schools, and a nation to whet our children's appetites? To make them hunter-gatherers instead of foie gras geese?

Tell me, please, what you are doing either for your kids or for your students if you have them. Are you firing or dodging canon balls?


Anonymous said...

Nice post. As far as our children: We do our best with their edumucation and release them into the wild. Brent

abhaille said...

But I LOVE foie gras.

Also, what Brent said. We keep the little buggers alive as long as we can and then we set them free.