It was January 10. I turned off the Obama Farewell speech at its conclusion in my hometown, feeling dejected and uninspired. As an Obama supporter, I expected insights and inspiration to deal with the next four—and hopefully not eight—years. But the Obama farewell speech came off not as the call to action he promised but a history lecture without a reasonable, unifying message from a person with privileged opportunities.
My head was spinning at 12:30am when I knew the unexpected would happen. The last thing I typed before I went to bed around 2am was the first thing I would say to my eleven-year-old son and my eight-year-old daughter when they awoke:
As I begin my twenty-first year as an educator, I can honestly say I’ve never before felt the need to defend my profession as I have the last few years. When I started teaching at 22, I got lots of praise for choosing this career. But these days, I’m always on the defensive against so many people who have a negative view of teachers in Chicago Public Schools.
Fred Castillo knows that when a man walks out of a barbershop, “most of the time, you feel like a million bucks.” While Fred feels proud of his work, he also sees that it’s about more than cutting hair. “It’s about building a friendship,” Fred explains. “At the barbershop, you develop a bond with the person you see every couple of weeks.”
My eleven-year-old son has the responsibility of watering all of the plants the backyard, in pots on the deck, and in the front. He complains each time, but he does it. Lately, he asks, “Who’s going to watch me in front?” We’ve never let our kids be outside in front of our house by themselves. But these days, my son asks because he’s discovering what it means to be afraid. So I stand on the front steps watching him, correcting the way he waters the plants.
The struggle is social; it’s emotional.
How wonderfully privileged that Arne Duncan can pick and choose his causes and decide what he’ll do, how he’ll do it, and who he’ll do it with—and who he won’t do it with. I listened to former Chicago Public Schools CEO and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s interview on Chicago Public Radio on March 17. A few days prior to the interview, Arne (I learned he likes first names when I worked at CPS’s central office) announced a new effort to tackle youth violence. He says he’ll focus on “disconnected youth—young men who are out of school or who don’t have a job.” He’ll do this with funding from the widow of Steve Jobs and the Emerson Collective. Steve Jobs’ widow called him “one of the extraordinary leaders of our country.”
What I am saying is that we need to remember the human element in what we do.