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Learning at its Best

Why I Won’t Be Neutral

Juan’s mom shows up, make-up smeared, holding his younger brother. My Spanish isn’t great, but I can understand the message. We’re going to Mexico. And if they don’t want us there, it’s back to El Salvador. His dad works construction while his son constructs sentences and equations and whatever else it takes to make a dream.

Juan is a gifted mathematician. Would it make it any less tragic if he couldn’t do long division?

As his class walks to P.E., I deliver the news and watch him crumple up like an old paper bag. He weeps. Big tears. Huge convulsions. And I wrap my arm around his hoodie, in an awkward camp counselor side hug. I’m weeping, too. It has been only eight months, but I care about this kid.

It doesn’t matter that he calls this place home. It doesn’t matter that he has learned English. It doesn’t matter that he is working harder than I ever worked in a land that was taken from his people by conquest. It doesn’t matter that he is an amazing math student who is learning English at a breakneck pace, because his village was hit-up by drug violence fueled by a deeply American demand.

I drive home in tears, not just for Juan, but for all my students who have faced a similar experience. I get it.  He is, in the public’s eye, an “illegal.” And this is why I cannot treat immigration in a theoretical way. this is why I cannot treat it as if it is merely a political issue. This is why I am convinced we have lost touch of the deeply human need for survival that drives a family to uproot their lives in a search for esperanza.

And this is why I will never be neutral on the issue of immigration. Because, ultimately, I believe in hope. I believe in my students. I believe that they are the future of our nation.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


3 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Neutral

  1. Great! Thanks for your post, thanks for caring! I feel the way you do and I think many do. But hardly anybody has the courage to speak up the way you do. I am sure your students and colleagues have also noticed how you felt about what happened to that family. With that, you have made an impact and changed this world a little. And for Juan and his parents – it will help them to know that somebody cares!

    Posted by Natali | March 29, 2013, 11:13 am
  2. We live in the era of free trade, multinational corporations, and free movement of capital, but we do not yet allow people to live and work where they want. We have a long way to go before we become a democracy.

    Posted by Stephen Downes | March 29, 2013, 5:25 pm
  3. Hi! My name is Lindsey Estes. I am a student at The University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am an elementary education major and in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 Course. In EDM 310 we learn about using different technology resources in our future classrooms. Mr. Spencer, this post really spoke to me about having a personal relationship with our students. As an educator it is hard to be neutral on such an issue when we see that our these issues directly affect our students, even more when it affects their education. Thank you for having the courage to stand up and say something about this issue and the way you feel. Caring for our students and showing them we care is one of the most important things we can do for them. They are more receptive to us when we show that we care about them outside of school. This would be a very hard situation to be placed in as an educator.

    Posted by Lindsey Estes | April 6, 2013, 12:38 pm

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