Friday, July 29, 2011

SOS March: Our stories matter

If I could start again
a million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way....

My son's toes were cut up pretty good, my daughter's shiner began its inevitable transition from a dull red to the eggplant hue it promises to be. Leslie and I left without any wounds to discuss, but at our age, that's cool. I only had one scuffle, but over the next few days, months, and years, should I be so blessed, it will become another story that defines our clan. Yep, the Dropkick Murphys are in town.

When American Irish get together, it feels familiar--there's a wonderful tension. No one's looking for a fight, but no one's backing off from one either. We share history, mostly consistent with glaring discrepancies--truth matters more than facts.

Our story is not particularly compelling because we're Irish--it's compelling because we're human. Our story is universal, our particulars emanating from an Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger. Just about every culture paying attention, true to its history, can say the same thing.

Every culture that shares stories from more than a generation knows love and death, knows kindness and injustice, knows redemption. The danger, a real one, is believing that only your culture shares these things.

Humans are tribal--just look at Facebook. But we're not immortal--just look at your folks a generation or two ahead. It's a fine line between tribalism and racism, one often crossed, especially when times get tough. The best stories remind us of our worst behaviors.

My sister, when she was still alive, traveled for months through rural Pakistan--she spent an afternoon having tea in a Hunzakut home--and everywhere the same stories, the same shared meals, the same kindness to "strangers," thousands of miles away in the Hunza Valley.

I am marching tomorrow because we've lost our way, and I want to see the faces of those who still have stories worth sharing. If the story ended all shiny and happy, I'd stick to my television. Our human story, though, never ends, even as mine winds down.

I teach to share the story.

I am charged with teaching natural history, a small but real part of our history. 

Teachers need to be careful about some things--our march is tribal, and if we're careless, our words become exclusionary.

Yes, we work hard, but just about everybody works hard.
Yes, we're losing autonomy in the workplace, but just about everybody else has, too.

I work hard as a teacher, but I worked hard as a dock worker, as a doc, as a lab tech, as a lawn cutter, as a salesperson. We all work hard--we must not ever forget that when anyone one of us speaks, we speak for all.

We need to focus on what we value, because our values are shared values that matter to everyone who loves, everyone who stays true to this human thing, which is intimately tied to the land we walk on, the air we breathe.

If we forget our collective pasts, the joys and the injustices, the happy births and the agonal deaths, the stories that matter, then we lose our reason to teach.

Those who teach just to make a living won't be there tomorrow. Neither will those who teach without passion, without hope, without love. Everyone who shows will have stories to share, stories to bring back home, stories that shape lives.

Johnny Cash took Trent Reznor's song story "Hurt," and made it something new, and old. Reznor had reluctantly agreed to let Cash use it, worried about Cash's take on it. He needn't had worried:
I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.
Alternative Press, #194, September, 2004, via Wikipedia

Sincerity and the search for meaning keep us (teachers, students, families, towns) together.

Teachers still have a rare privilege in our culture--we tell stories for a living. Classrooms that work are woven with the words of all within the room. I do not want to lose my voice. I do not want my students to lose theirs. So I will march, and I will sing, and chant, and maybe even dance. I hope you do, too.

The Dropkick Murphys are the best paddy punk band in the world.


Tom Hoffman said...

Three words: Steel toed boots.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

Good advice.

I may be barefoot anyway. I like bleeding.

John T. Spencer said...

One of my favorite lessons in the first week of school is to ask "Who owns your voice?" Inevitably, there will always be one student who says, "Nobody owns a voice, but it can still be stolen and shared." Every time.

lucychili said...

here is someone telling a good story
Elinor Ostrom.
min 6 - 52

A student asks a question:
"if you were king of the world how would you execute moving indigenous people from their flooding lands in Pakistan?"

Her answer
"ask them what their grandmothers did."

lucychili said...

@mmhoward said...

Really appreciate this post...thanks for sharing these stories.

A team of public and private school educators in Atlanta, GA, have created a platform for learners to share their stories during the 2011/12 school year. The edu180atl project launches on tomorrow (August 1) and will feature 180 different learner voices during the 180 days of school. One post each day in response to the prompt: What did you learn today?

I hope you'll follow along...just like the SOS march, edu180atl is just another attempt to change the conversation about education.

Kathryn J said...

I look forward to reading your stories from the march.