Yesterday was not a good day. Xenophobia won in the U.K.
The Supreme Court, by deciding nothing, exposed five million lives to fear, uncertainty, and instability. While his city still tries to heal, the police officer who drove the van where Freddie Gray’s spine was snapped can now wake up every morning without fear of consequences. The list goes on.
Yesterday was a day for hate. And all I could think was, I wish we were still in school. Not because I have any desire to add a hatred of summer to the frightening, irrational prejudice that manifested itself yesterday — I profoundly need and plan to enjoy this break — but because the only way I know how to make sense of the word, the only way I know to manifest hope, is with my students.
See, this is why I teach. It helps me not feel useless. It helps me, in the face of dehumanization and othering, remember the profound depths of love of which we are actually capable. It helps me love.
I teach at a middle school in East Los Angeles. My students are predominantly low-income, Latino, citizens of multiple worlds. They, like 12-year-olds across the country, are obsessed with 21 Pilots, try to get away with telling me “Daaaaaaaaaamn Daniel”, and often date and break up without either partner ever actually speaking to the other. They, like 12-year-olds across the country, are afraid of politicians who want them gone, see violence done to their communities which they can not help but internalize, and often feel like the American Dream is not meant for them.
Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it isn’t meant for any person of color. Maybe it isn’t meant for any of us. Maybe this is just how things are.
Or, maybe, not.
My students and I often talk about the Mayan idea of “In Lak’ech” — I am another you, you are another me. It is a beautiful, simple concept that is immensely hard to practice and reconcile with much of what we see happening around and to us. It is even harder when they ask, “How can people have so much hate?” and all I can do is look back at them and shrug. I don’t know.
My students, in those moments when we gaze into the abyss, fill me with awe. They do not accept that this is simply how things are, that oppression and hatred will always win out. They want to fight, they want to know . . . well, everything. We may enter our conversations filled with vast amounts of pain and anger, but we enter them with questions, too. We enter them with empathy. We enter them with hope. Actually, my students are the ones who enter with hope. Thanks to them, I get to leave with it.
My students, like 12-year-olds everywhere, are not satisfied with merely learning about the world. They yearn, passionately, to engage with it. When we learned about Syrian refugees earlier this year, they asked, How can we help? When we discussed the finally-closed Exide battery factory, which contaminated a vast area of East LA and Vernon with lead poisoning, they asked, How can we make it better? When we wrote letters to the Supreme Court Justices arguing in favor of DACA+, they asked How could they not want our families to stay together? When we decided to write our own legal codes and lists of rights, they didn’t even need to ask why. They knew they could do better.
Teaching is about many things, but at its core, it is about two: hope and love. It often seems that our world is painfully bereft of both. Yesterday was not a good day, but there will be good days. Our kids will make sure of that. It is our privilege to help guide them through, to help them understand their positionality, develop their agency, and find their voices in their classrooms, in their schools, in their communities, in their worlds. So, yes, I am very, very glad that it is summer break. But I also can’t wait to get back in my classroom and deal in hope and love again.
Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar
Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA