Dear Student-Colleagues: This is a note of fierce love for you.
You have seen and experienced more in the last few years than anyone should experience in a lifetime; indeed, no one should ever experience any of.
A global pandemic. Multiple massacres: among them, Black Americans targeted, most recently in Buffalo, NY, and, at this time, 18 babies and one teacher murdered in Texas on May 24 – and, maybe not so ironically, all were murdered by what I can only say are our own babies, the young people we, as a national collective of teachers, recently had in our educational embrace. The perpetrators were only 18. They were recently ours.
And yet you persevere. You will return to work tomorrow and find a way to hold space for the babies still alive who surround you. You will do so despite State curricular limits. You will do what you know is necessary because that is what we’ve taught you in every class you must do. You have believed us, and I have seen you enact what you’ve been taught with grace and love and academic, intellectual brilliance. You are the educational artists of the future. So, tomorrow, you will be again.
You’ll hear that “children are resilient.” A profound adolescent psychotherapist from Woodstock, New York, Terry Funk Antman, contests that notion. Children are not resilient. The idea of resiliency makes adults feel better. Indeed, it is you and the kids’ families, friends, and we who support you to hold the kids that allow the babies to move through the continuous eruptions of national, community, and family violence.
You may be told by authorities not to mention these atrocities and yet you know that our babies in your classrooms are holding onto the trauma. Some kids actually may not know what’s going on, but they can sniff it, they can sense their family’s and your efforts to hold back from them pain and bewilderment, fatigue from the propensity of this nation to attack; our ache from tragedy. No classroom is neutral emotionally or politically. Our kids’ selves and our selves leak into and between the cracks of standardization. The politics of difference, the act of grappling with the American imaginary that we’re all safe seeps through.
I write to you tonight to hold you as high as I can; to let you know that I know that the faculty of this department (men- and women-identified alike) are, like poet Marge Piercy says in her poem “For Strong Women”: We are “determined to do something others are determined not be done. [We are] pushing up on the bottom of a lead coffin lid. [We are] trying to raise a manhole cover with [our] head, [we are] trying to butt [our] way through a steel wall.” And we will succeed because we must. We do this for and in support of the brave, bold, and most important work that you do.
I believe in you, and in saying this I know I speak for this department. We all believe in you.
Keep finding ways to navigate educational constraints to ensure that each baby you teach (pre-k thru 12; they’re all our babies) get what they need to consider, to ache, to recover, to deconstruct, to process, and to, then, socially reconstruct this unfortunate history, this legacy of violence this nation continues to (re)produce.
Thank you for remaining with us in the departments of education, with the colleges and universities, and with the kids you teach, their families, and the social conditions of which the kids continue their best to try to make sense. Teachers, thank you for providing the babies creative, self-relevant ways to resist the contemporary and find a pathway to love and to our common humanity.
With love and support siempre (always),
Lisa Arrastia, PhD, is the Founding Director of The Ed Factory, a former teacher, school leader, and founder, and she is the curator of the transmedia project Young People’s Archive, East Side Freedom Library. This oped is republished from Common Dreams under a Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
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