There is a tremendous amount of tension between academic tradition and capitalist pursuits, and sometimes that tension shears apart institutions we love. Sometimes that tension so infuses those institutions that the tension itself becomes the fossilizing agent binding together warring factions in dysfunctional cultures of attrition, blame, and cynicism.
These are dark places full of grinding conflict and the spaghettification agency, curiosity, and identity in the gravity well of standardization.
But are these places new?
Haven’t schools always been driven by the industrious? Haven’t schools always been meant to bequeath to our children our parents’ status quo? Haven’t schools always settled to reflect what we, the people, have settled for ourselves?
Haven’t schools always been a window into the dreams of the privileged?
Our public schools have always been dark places for some because they have never been built to be bright places for all.
The fault lines between what is happening in our public schools and what should be happening in our public schools have always existed throughout alternating periods of light and dark. We are in a period of collision, friction, and upheaval. Conflicts about school and society that have been dormant underground in our collective conscience are now being pushed up to surface in our attention. Through violent upheaval, our problems have shaken off the sediment of our complacency, and we are cut again, suddenly and deeply, by the ridges of inequity that we have sharpened with our disregard.
Concerned for our own ever-expiring well-being, we are all of us scrambling unevenly to summit and claim the daunting and mountainous realities of our national economic, geographic, and political landscapes. However, so long as we are concerned with ourselves, we will be forever wading through landslides of our own making.
The mountains will not topple or spin: not the mountain of inequity; not the mountain of shortsightedness; not the mountain of privilege; not the mountain of pride. Neither the mountain of ours nor the mountain of theirs. None of them will crumble beneath our feet.
The mountains have risen. They will rise again. They will be claimed and claimed and claimed and named after our worst tendencies in dealing with one another. We will climb those mountains until the air is thin, until our voices are shrill, and until there isn’t enough room for everyone else. If we insist, some children will follow us and help throw others off the mountain.
Many of our leaders follow the mountains, so we should not follow them. The truth of the matter is, they are not in control of the mountains.
Let’s instead look to the children who still remember maps full of hope and who still experience the sysaesthesia of material reality and nearly graspable impossibilities. Let’s look to the children who remember the sublimity of discovery and the empathy necessary to genuine care.
There’s nothing for us at the top of the mountain or in between the fault lines below them, but we can find everything we need in the people around us if we are brave enough to stop climbing and to begin looking in more than once direction at once.
Let’s build something worthy of our students, of our selves, and of our time together where we are, here and now, in the boundless valley of learning in community that is open to us all. Let’s admit ourselves to that valley and join our children who are already there, wondering if they will be allowed to stay – or if they must heed the call summoning them up the mountains.