My school was a box. Literally. It was a small 3 by 3 foot square. Heavy, white particleboard walls on either side of my desktop kept me safe, un-influenced and undistracted by other students. The walls of the classroom were lined with these little “offices”, with all the students’ backs faced to the center of the room. Each student worked at their own pace and even corrected their own work; making corrections at the grading station. The teacher’s job was to, well I actually don’t know what the teacher’s job was. However, in my memory we were self-initiated, self-motivated, self-graded and self-promoted. The system held us, letting us see the next rung of the educational ladder, just as we found stable footing on the previous rung.
My best friend was Michael. He may have been the best student in class or the absolute worst. There was no way of knowing because he kept his work in his office and I in mine. The anonymity of learning allowed each of us to grow or not grow at our own leisure. I would be hard pressed to deny some of the attributes of this style of instruction, since I probably needed to be contained and kept silent in some sort of box in order to absorb information. However, overall this style of education seems isolating and fraught with landmines.
Let’s ponder my little box of an office for a moment. What would have happened if I dared to peek over the wall and see that Michael’s box was brightly colored and cheery? Suppose the neighbor on the other side was allowed decorations on her dividers to stimulate her learning? Perhaps further down the row I spotted somebody who had a (gasp) computer to help them understand that foreign language called mathematics? And had I have peeked across the room what if I saw a student using headphones to listen to music to calm their nerves while they tested? Would that seem equitable or fair? Even in that land of identical uniforms and conformity we were different children with different needs and perspectives. The same is true in life.
As I look at this topic of education I wonder what “walls” are between the next person and me. I grew up in an extremely conservative home where secular music was bad, people who drank were going to hell and where I was told explicitly that I could not marry a black man. As I have grown I have come to understand the way I view my world is not necessarily a complete picture, nor it is always right OR wrong.
In reading the posts of my colleagues (and, might I say amazing women) I pondered perspective. I was raised in a white culture in North Idaho where white supremacists settled and sold their wares openly; publicly parading their hoods, burning crosses and skinhead youth. As an educated Korean American woman I would like to say that I understand the plight of the African American brothers or the micro-aggressions of myself and others, but I don’t think I always do.
Often, when faced with comparisons of my black brothers and sisters and other Americans, I find myself reaching for skeptism and suspicion instead of gracious curiosity. My solitary learning space says “aren’t we all given equal opportunity? Doesn’t the educational system lay a blanket of equality for all children to grow and learn by?” Before you put blond braids on my and call me Pollyanna, remember my perspective. White upbringing, in white America, raised by white parents.
But I choose. Instead of hunkering down in my small 3×3 desk I chose to use my space as a foundation from which to learn instead of relying on it to be my sole source of information. I peek over the walls to see others learning tools, trying to gather from them. I glance across the room and ask whether it is true or not that everybody is given equitable opportunity. I choose to not learn in solitude and isolation. I choose to take down my walls/dividers and be a collaborative, brave student of myself and others.
Thank you to all of you who help me to learn and understand. Thank you for taking down your own wall and offering your gifts of perspective on topics of race and equality. In turn I offer you mine, which is as incomplete and flawed as yours but has the shared hope that together we can be a small part of change and peace in the world.