I was born just as World War II began. While my home life was violent, I felt safe in school with words, numbers, and facts – facts about frogs, The First Amendment, and far-away places like China and Vancouver, worlds different from the dank basement where I lived in Ohio. Books, my teachers, and the education process pushed me to look to the future and what I could be.
I could not be, I learned from my mother and stepfather, a college student, because girls took valuable seats away from boys. But one day while I read Dr. Seuss to my children, I realized I could take classes at a community college at night; there I learned about propaganda and the Japanese American internment during the war, for instance, and about racism, ethnocentrism, and parochialism. I had believed that education was the key to saving us, especially when we became an interracial family, but my sociology professor insisted that wasn’t true. By the time I earned my MFA when I was forty-six, I realized that though education would not save us, education was the key to increased understanding.
Now, after teaching in a community college for seventeen years, I believe that a community college is one of the best places for a major shift forward in understanding and that my job isn’t just to impart facts, reasoning, history, and critical thinking; my job is also to continually remind students they can change their thinking, their habits, and their lives if they let go of fear. In his inaugural speech in 1984, Nelson Mandela said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…And as we let our own light shine…as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I believe I have been entrusted to help students realize and celebrate their power no matter what kind of mistakes they have made. As one student told me, “You believe in second chances.” I do.
I believe my job is to encourage students to feel empowered by their work and accomplishments.
I believe my job is to push students toward self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-esteem.
I believe that once we believe in ourselves we can work to save ourselves, and others, from racism, ethnocentrism, parochialism, greed, hate, murder.
I believe this because I see understanding happen each week, sometimes each day in my classes. I see Brynnen out of the Miami ghetto finding he can use his gift for writing to bring about equity; Brandon and Ahmed making a video on the Faces of Islam to combat misunderstanding and fear; Erika oozing excitement over plankton and her dream to become a marine biologist so she can educate children about the planet. I’ve been witness to hundreds, thousands of students experiencing small and large epiphanies right in front of my eyes, and I believe that education is the key to transformation – one student at a time.
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