A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"From a Student's Perspective; Taking Back What We Created,"

I met the vibrant, magnetic, and optimistic American University Cultural Anthropology Sophomore, Leda Kennedy, the other day while picking up my tiller at my parents house. During the Fall, Leda found the Center for Economic and Social Justice on a George Washington University website. She is now completing an unpaid internship loosely related to anthropology.

Unlike a few of CESJ's previous interns, one in particular I remember as being totally devoid of imagination, the kind of "self-obsessed, money obsessed drone" to which Leda refers in her speech, Leda totally embraced her assignment to be a spokesperson for her generation, with the Federal Reserve as a backdrop, about why, since "we created it, we can change it." I hope others might find inspiration in young Leda's words of hope, as I have done.

As my creaky chevy truck rolled down the steep, winding hill and up to parents house, with its bed full of brush from my long dead dogwood tree, my mind, my body, my entirety had felt as if it were shriveling, dried up, totally flaccid. When I get that way, truly I would prefer not to interact with or be responsive to anybody. The last thing I wanted to do at that moment was to meet anybody. Since my parents raised me to display manners and show others common decency, however, assuming the role of a host in my childhood home, I followed the sound of Mabel's rumbling footsteps downstairs, prepared to give the bare minimum, ready to put on a facade of polite interest.

As the spritely Leda rose from the couch to greet me, the first thing I noticed was that the athletic Leda wore mixed socks, one white, one striped. How can anyone remain humorless when confronted by somebody wearing mismatched socks?

Ricky had left my tiller at my mom's house the other day during a shivering all-day driving rain. Meanwhile, I had been marinating in self-doubt, turning over in my mind T. S. Eliot's observation about April being "the cruelest month," and reflecting about Will Smith's captivating performance in The Pursuit of Happiness. All I wanted was to get my tiller back so that Joe and I could till the ACCA  plot -- Joe has procrastinated all year and has left over 12 hours of community service remaining with his community service deadline less than a month away. I had called Ricky to propose the idea of working on helping me restart an old project, re-configuring a retaining wall. All I wanted was my tiller back, but felt I needed to be polite, so I proposed a project I really did not want to do at this time to so that returning my tiller would be worth Ricky's while.

Just as when I built my shed over the winter break, with Ricky's help, during my 1-year's Master's Program at Marymount University, I was quivering about the prospect of spending my entire Thursday chattering with Ricky about things I did not care about, drinking a few beers, when I knew in my heart of hearts that what I needed to do was prepare myself so that I could prepare my students for the last leg of a marathon, the dreaded end of the year state testing, on which my entire future as a teacher depends, so that I can gird myself for battle, so that I can do my part to keep alive the flickering hopes of students just barely hanging on to the American Dream, students who might impulsively bounce a ball off a statue on our field trip to the Smithsonian, as one of my ADD students recently did, students who need to be taught not just how to learn, but why.

Poverty does not merely lay waste to the body, poverty leaves no quarter for the spirit. Poverty is totally debilitating. When I reflect on what Eliot was trying to say in The Waste Land, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, that the world is showered in grace, that opportunity is knocking, but that humanity seems to have lost the ability to be receptive to grace through the din of jazz and chatter about Michelangelo. Devoid of hopes and dreams, feeling no connection to the dominant culture, many of my students struggle to break lifelong habits that lead to academic failure. In her subtly powerful speech, Leda reminds us that we created poverty; therefore, we can fix it.

Ricky had wanted me to be at my parents house as a shield as he dropped off my tiller. Probably he was avoiding being cornered into a discussion about Social Justice. As I lay on the couch, as the phone rang all day, while the rain pounded my windows, I did not return my calls. All I wanted was my tiller.

So there I was the next day, feeling sorry for myself, when I came across this breath of fresh air, Leda, for whom my 84 year old father, who still carries an enduring torch from the 1960's, has hopes might carry the flickering flame of social and economic justice forward. As I listen to the words of this precocious young woman, who recently had an audience with Richard Leakey, the son of the world famous bone collector, who will win a Fulbright Scholarship, who received a standing ovation as her YouTube video was presented to her class. who will soon be pursuing her dreams in some jungle in South America, I was reminded to go back to the tapes, to listen to Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, to see if I could find a spark, a little extra source of motivation to get me past this little funk.

I've been listening over and over to the "apex" of Hill's philosophy, ruminating about how I can marshal the powers of my mind so that I can be a shaper of destiny, not a victim. On Thursday, instead of honoring my commitment to rebuild my retaining wall, I paced back and forth the halls of my empty school, pondering pensively about how I would teach coordinate points, mean, median, and mode, and the civil war. While listening to Napoleon Hill, I followed Ricky's acronym, RAFT (Read, Act, File, and Trash), which Ricky uses in counseling aging hoarders. I listened over and over to Hill's discussion about poverty, self-doubt, and the 6 basic fears, especially the fear of poverty, and strategies for overcoming them. Today, I think I will order the book.

Yesterday, Joe and I cleaned the brush from the plot at ACCA. The tiller would not start. I think it needs a new spark plug.