As part of our course work, and an overall course objective of fostering experiences in working in multiple modalities, we were asked to to create a film in which we revealed our ideas about one of the largest components of the YMEJ experience: mentorship of youth. In watching my classmate’s films, and constructing my own film, many of the reoccurring images were ones of sharing stories. To share our story and to be receptive to hearing the stories of others is a powerful, connecting experience. As I read a poem today, many of the images that it evoked for me made me realize that it metaphorically embodied my hopes for both my mentoring experience and my own personal journey through this course. Therefore, in the spirit of multiple modalities, I offer poetry to complement the films on mentorship that we created in class…
“Wild Geese” Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
“In attempts to improve the nation’s outlook, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act was signed into law by President Obama last January. The act lets foster care organizations look at educational records to better help support foster care youth and prevent educational turbulence.”
As I read the above article, I found myself thinking a lot about the role that the law plays in facilitating real, substantive change in people’s lives. Laws designed to protect are often paradoxical things. The construction of this article moves from Harold Sloke’s story of struggle, to the intervention of a change agent, a teacher who “saved him” from “prison” and helped him to graduate, to an ending statement about the law that President Obama signed in January that helps foster care agencies better work with students because they now have access to their educational records. While there is actually no formal link connecting the teacher’s advocacy and help of the student with this particular law, there is the assumption that knowledge of the student’s circumstances allowed the teacher to enact change in Harold’s life. For me, this creates a falsely singular narrative privileging the law as the tool used by the teacher to “save” the student. It often seems that human connection and empathy can never alone be honored as the agent of change in educational narratives, at least those popularized in media.
The idea that merely because something is enshrined in the law does not mean this equivocates to its enactment in practice, adoption in public consciousness, or reality in the classroom is not new. I think of the many parallels found in human rights laws that have ultimately, done little to meaningfully change the circumstances of the people for whom they were designed to protect. Until education about these laws exists, until consciousness is transformed, there is often very little real change in the everyday existence for marginalized populations. Laws without education are often rendered impotent. Laws without agents of change, such as the teacher who “saved” Harold Sloke, are often little more than words on paper. Essentially, while the law may be a starting point—and not one I want to disparage—there are many other pieces that will need to be acknowledged for real change to occur. As with many issues in education, it is never just one panacea that hinders or helps a student who is struggling. To paint it in this way, in broad strokes, I think simplifies a story that is far more nuanced.
For my final project in YMEJ, I have been thinking a lot about movement. While movement, and the ability to move, is a fundamental human right codified and enshrined in a variety of seminal human rights documents, the reality of who has the privilege and positionality to move is often quite different. As I continue to ruminate on this over the course of this class, I feel inspired by this time lapse video capturing the Millions March protest emergent out of the recent unjust trials here in the United States. Watching the masses move in solidarity offers a visual dimension of hope that makes movement seem powerfully accessible.
When I was in seventh grade, we went on a class trip to Cape Cod with our entire class. We stayed in cabins and roasted s’mores and went on “mindful walks” where we explored the coastline and the thriving natural community that prospered on the shore. When a group of people decided to go swimming, I joined them even though it was May and the water was still cold in New England. I remember swimming out farther and farther into the waves; I was a confident swimmer after summers spent navigating even the roughest of ocean waves with my Poppop. “Over for the little waves. Under for the big ones,” he would always say. Swimming was a game, a medley of “over” “unders” with little recognition of the ocean’s power.
As I swam out farther that day on my class trip, I began to realize that I was freezing and, the next thing I knew, I was struggling to swim and felt like I could hardly feel my body. My math teacher, who was incidentally my least favorite, ran out, dove in, and carried me out of the water. It was a humiliating experience for a seventh grader. It did teach me a lesson about the silent force of the ocean though. The water lulls you with its rhythm, and soothes you with its peaceful sounds. You can swim out farther and farther from the safety of the shore, but because you are floating and surrounded by a womblike embrace, the danger of the ocean is not something you think about or fear.