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“Against the Wind”

July 5, 2010
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Los Angeles history teacher Chuck Olynyk has been blogging the story of the “reconstitution” efforts at the high school where he worked over at Save Fremont and Remember Fremont. Here’s a particularly moving post from the former blog, about one student’s response to the negative changes happening at the school.
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“Against the Wind”

Today is Friday, May 28, 2010 and Day 34 of my time left at the Mont. It is also a furlough day, so I got to sleep in all the way to 6:00 a.m. Woohoo. Early morning, so that means I actually have time to process stuff which crossed my radar, realizing that some of what I saw was important.

What touched me yesterday: one of those days where I could put the kids on auto-pilot; they knew what they had to get done, and I didn’t feel like cracking the whip. I noticed one student, we’ll call her J., standing by the open window, looking at the rain. Good kid, done early, no problem. I joined her and asked what was up. Without looking at me, she said, “I don’t know what to do about next year.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing the meaning.

“I don’t want to stay at Fremont.” When I asked why, she said, “All the good teachers are leaving. There won’t be any Aesthetics next year. It’s just going to be all messed up.”

“Are you worried about uniforms?” She looked at me with a non-verbal Duh. Or Dumb ass. I like it when kids think past the surface. “No, I’m scared my education will get messed up. I’m going to graduate in two years. I want to be able to go to someplace good.”

“Are you learning anything here? Any of your teachers? Anything in my class?”

J. didn’t answer for a long time. I thought I was getting an ignore, but she was trying to form her words, I guess. “Yeah, A bunch of you are going because you say what they’re doing is wrong and that if you stay, it will be like that priest’s poem (Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote “First they came for the Jews…”). You’ll just be going along with it, knowing it’s wrong. You’d be a part of it. You said that you can’t use the excuse, ‘You were just following orders.’”

I tried to find some way to just let her find the words without putting my own words in her mouth. “That’s right.” I thought of a “co-worker” who came into my room to tell me in front of my students, after loudly announcing to the kids months ago that she’d never reapply, that I was wrong for not reapplying, and that what kept her going was to look into “their sweet, young faces.” I remembered telling her it was because of my kids that I knew I couldn’t reapply. But here was the reality. This is one of the casualties of the war on public education. This is one of the victims.

“You don’t know where you’ll be next year?”

I shook my head. “No clue.”

“Siberia?” She smiled a little bit.

“Yeah, just like my grandfather, huh? Nah, no idea. They’ll probably ship me to a middle school or make me a pool teacher.” I was thinking about how this might be the last time I teach about the World Wars and Totalitarian regimes, bringing to life my family’s visions of those times, keeping them alive in a way, and the Cold War and Vietnam and the Fall of the Berlin War. I flashed on Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) last words in “Blade Runner”: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” Maybe it was the rain, or the time of year.

“So why can’t I leave, too?”

“Do you think that is the answer?”

“I don’t want to be a part of this, either. If it wrong for you, why isn’t it wrong for me?”

That’s the problem with teaching. Sometimes the kids learn the lessons and apply them. This wasn’t coaxing. This wasn’t brainwashing. This wasn’t a trail of breadcrumbs she was supposed to follow to reach a conclusion I wanted. I was teaching for months about right and wrong, about standing up for others, about totalitarian regimes and loss of freedom and how life has no easy answers. And then this child turned into a young woman right before my eyes.

That’s why we do this.

Even a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone.

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