I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and neither do my students (most of them.) Events in my life over the last few weeks have had a whopping impact on my perspective on teaching, life, and especially on my efforts with my students. I had this topic written down for quite a while, but it has taken me some time to realize how and what to write about the fact that I didn’t know that I didn’t really know about poverty. And not just poverty, but about desire, about homelessness, about ambition and dedication and commitment. I thought I knew.
I went to Mexico over spring break. Almost as a clique of what to do during my two weeks off, I went with a group of students to build a house for a homeless family. I know that there is poverty in Mexico; I know that there is poverty in my school. I’ve seen pictures of shanty towns. My father drove me down to 4th street in Los Angeles when I was a young person. But this was the first time I have worked along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his life, and life for his family.
Or is it? Isn’t that what I do as a teacher everyday: work along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his or her life? I think it’s the “desperate” part that is missing from my students. Most of them do not seem very desperate to learn. Perhaps it is the population that I teach. Perhaps it is the times we live in. Or perhaps they do not feel the urgency to improve because many do not understand the opportunities of an American education and have not experienced a real need. They don’t know that they don’t know.
I was struck by the children of Mexico who have nothing to occupy their play time; nothing but each other’s company. I wondered if they have the same ambition for their lives as I have. Then I watched Slumdog Millionaire. No wonder it won best picture; what an amazing story, and an amazing film. The brothers who lived in a trash pile clearly had ambitions for a better life, and were willing to do whatever was necessary to survive. Jamal was desperate to endure, even if he couldn’t read the Three Musketeers and never learned the name of the third.
As educators, I feel that it is critically important that we keep our eyes open. Just because we can’t see what goes on beyond the closed doors of our classrooms does not mean that it is acceptable for us to choose ignorance. We need to recognize in ourselves that we don’t know what it is like to walk in the shoes of ALL of our students. We don’t. But we need to make the point with ALL of our students that we all need to be cognizant of the whole world we live in, and not just our small corner.