This I Believe

Janice - Los Angeles, California
Entered on July 25, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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Ms. Sharon and I sat lazily on the warm concrete steps of the outdoor stage. Distant sounds of student laughter and gossip whispered in the breeze as I heard sound bites about new couples, videogames, and sports. Ms. Sharon and I were enjoying lunch under the sunny afternoon sky, chatting about students in my fifth period history class whom she had seen during third period. The empty, serene lawn and blooming rose garden spoke nothing of the 1400 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders ruling the campus.

Crystal, a skilled basketball player moseyed over towards us. Dressed in blue warm-ups and a white sweatshirt, Crystal conformed to her own interpretation of the school’s uniform policy. Even so, this “cool” kid sat with her two teachers, her long legs spanning the four steps below her. Crystal talked unashamedly with us, describing why she believed Ms. Nelly was going through menopause and how Mr. Ben’s math class was the easiest class ever. While griping about school, my own class made her list of complaints. “Ms. Yai, you teach like you’re at a private school.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You make everyone work, write essays, and do all that; honors, regular, whatever. That’s private school stuff.”

I didn’t quite know how to swallow these words. Crystal was complaining about history and yet I her compliment pleased me. Was this bold, outspoken athlete learning in my class? Was she being challenged and empowered? Am I doing my job – well?

I believe education – despite misshapen district mandates and state tests, despite the historical underperformance of urban schools like that where I teach, and even despite the enormous personal stresses and obstacles endured by today’s children – is still the greatest equalizer this country offers its youth.

“Thanks, Crystal. I’m going to take that as a compliment.”