For my 2nd blog post that follows my first on the great value and grave danger of silence, I’d like to focus on something we rarely hear mentioned these days in the realms of teaching and community organizing -- the value of humility.
In a society that is organized around hierarchical relationships of power and oppression at all levels, it is crucial for those of us located higher on the scale to cultivate an attitude and practice of humility in our lives and work. Teachers of urban students often come from middle class, white backgrounds, and know very little about the harsh realities their students face every day of their lives, and even less about their communities’ histories of racial, class and cultural struggle. Therefore we tend to underestimate, discount or ignore the ongoing significance and impact of the decades of injustice that pervade our students lives at all levels and in all ways. In so doing we tend to perceive our students and their communities as deficient and in need of our help, uplift, guidance, and often control to “get them back on track, turn their lives around, mold them into productive, law-abiding citizens, increase their competence,” while slighting root causes and sources of these students’ extreme life dilemmas and difficulties.
Humility serves as a valuable guide because it reminds us that we don’t know all we need to know about our students, what they’re up against, who they are, what matters to them, what they need, and what it is about the current educational system that is failing them, even further harming them. Humility will guide us to learn to ask our students and their families and communities what kind of learning matters most to them so they can identify their gifts and passions and get the necessary support to nurture the development of those gifts, which can then enhance the quality of life of the community.
We can support and join the struggles to confront and overcome the decades of injustice with which our students and their communities have had to deal. In the process we discover that we, too, have forms of oppression we need to overcome as well, and that we have become more empowered as a result of what we learn from the communities we serve. In all humility, we as teachers and activists learn that we who assumed that were supposed to set the agenda to “empower our students, families and communities," have been, in fact, empowered by them; and that the way forward is through a deep-felt process of mutual empowerment and mutual learning.
This awareness changes everything about urban education today from the teacher imposing curricular and testing regimens from above that are irrelevant to students’ lives, to facilitating the co-creation of genuine learning communities in which the student’s gifts, passions, and needs are at the center of the educational process, supported and nurtured by fellow students and members of the broader community.
I welcome your stories about and insights into these issues -- please add your comments!