On Refugees and Other Seemingly Polarizing Dilemmas

History has demonstrated many times that immigrants revitalize a society, and create much more than they take. The sort of ‘they are just a bunch of lazy leeches’ sentiment you are expressing here was also directed at the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Polish, the Chinese, and many other immigrant groups in the past, all of whom over time have vastly enriched the culture of America.   -George R.R. Martin

Today is Day 2 of Thanksgiving break.  I somewhat convalesce mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s been a rough start to the school year, and despite the fact that I am reading Happiness Advantage and taking an online Brene Brown class–actively working on changing my mindset to one of positive outlook–I am debilitated by this culture of hatred and fear supported by the evil stepsister of consumerism and ignorance.   Although I am much more relaxed at home, now having hours upon hours to read and grow as a person, educator, spiritual being, etc., I ponder how America got in this state of being, so unhealthy and polarized?

Meanwhile, our cats (all 5) present themselves to my bed at the mere hint of a cold morning.  I remember when most of my students were like our beloved cats:  curious, playful, loving (at times), disengaged (at times), feisty, obnoxious, verbal, cuddly (at times)…you get the picture.  Before I get chastised for comparing sentient children to pets, stay with me.

na'la

I’ve spent the better part of this school year trying to do it all.  I am a master teacher; I am a great reading teacher.  My gift for my struggling students is the ability to break down tests into the simplest and most effective and powerful strands to hone in on so that my students can be moderately more successful in passing them.  I say moderately because there are other “nonfactors” which factor into the successful test taking student.  Here are some:

  1. Resources – What goes on outside of the classroom?  Does the child, like our cat, have an endless supply of food and water whenever he or she wants or needs it…nothing fancy, but the water is clean and the food is available 24/7 except when we run out and I have to go to the store after work).  Are there books to lay on, knock over, walk across, perhaps even read and discuss?  Are there parents at home, surrogate or otherwise, or even at work, and do they love the child unconditionally and whisper sweet nothings for no reason at all?  In short, what does the child have outside of the classroom?
  2. Creativity – What other uses for a box are there other than a box?  My cats (and my children when they were younger) spend endless hours in various empty (or semifilled) boxes around the house.  They curl up in them, chew them, play in them, hide in them, climb on them, bat at them, etc.  My cats leave their marks everywhere they go and find a myriad of ways to problem solve and express their little personalities without receiving any grade or score at all.  They just do it in their own way.  And they can because they have resources–nutrition, a roof over their head, and boxes.
  3. Problem-solving and Perseverance – When faced with a dilemma, my cats respond in the way they know will solve their problem and they are mighty persistent at it.   When they run out of time (like students do on a test), they shrug it off and go take a nap somewhere.  The problem may not be solved, but it isn’t a life-or-death situation. One day, however, it may be a life-or-death situation.  Problem-solving and perseverance should be habit or serious injury will occur.  Problem-solving and perseverance stem from cause-and-effect.  With cats, this occurs in the simplest form:  If I do this, my mom (dad, sibling, etc.) will respond.  Therefore, Furball will caterwaul from the living room until someone lets him out at 2 a.m.  My husband will feign sleep and I will let him out or vice versa.  If this doesn’t work, he will jump on us.  If this doesn’t work, he will take a nap somewhere.

Students are increasingly demonstrating a lack of creativity and problem-solving ability.  Some need to learn perseverance, while others need resources.  Increasingly, the test scores show us nothing more than what we already know.  Most students are moderate test takers and that should be okay.  Who really needs to know how to compare icebergs to glaciers in 5th grade in an essay?  Even the word “global warming” is polarized.   There is attention-grabbing and attention (as in “pay attention”).

My cats get attention by randomly walking across and pushing buttons on our laptops.  Instead of pushing buttons to figure out why they can’t get to a website, they chime:  “The computer won’t let me go…”  In some cases, I will teach the student how to check the spelling of the web address (the number one culprit) and since, in the past, I mostly had learning-different students, spelling and reversals of letters can definitely be tricky. However, more and more, all students, who are masters of Minecraft, cannot seem to navigate a simple learning site in the few moments we have to use one of three available computers in my classroom, nor can they problem-solve quickly.

It is no surprise, therefore, that average American sentiment seems to be so incredibly against Syrian refugees.  If my wordpress were actually read by the parents of students I teach, I would be taken to task for comparing their children to my cats or that I brought refugees into the equation (since I am a Communist, according to one parent).  No one loves to skewer a teacher more than those who uphold “good” American values. Everything gets so much negative attention, hyped in misinformation.

So, I sit here and ponder:  how can I change this?  What does it take to learn and teach in a public school classroom today?  I know I still possess the same love and joy of children and learning and teaching that I do for my cats (and other furry friends).  I know I am passionate and thoughtful.

We have too many edicts, directives, must-do’s, and non-negotiables and too little time (a resource) to do it in.  We don’t have enough cats, who walk across our keyboard and say, “I do it this way.”   We have too little wiggle room to be creative, and when we are, we get in trouble for it.

As for history…it will repeat itself.   Read a European paper about anything and you will find they are polarized also, and not just on the “refugee” issue, but on education, unbridled power and consumerism, healthcare, diversity, religion, etc.  Meanwhile, my cats are moving off the bed, out of their boxes, and into my just-cleaned closet to wreak havoc.  I leave you with an often quoted poem by me (albeit a different part):

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

– The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats