Friday, June 13, 2008

"The Education of Ms. Groves"

"Mother to Son"

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinda hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Langston Hughes

(Spoken word has been a part of Black life in one way or another - forever. I performed this poem in the Miss Rivers High School contest in 1974. I came in second place. Then it mattered. Today, as I still remember it by heart, it remains a very important and lasting part of my history.)

I'm a soon-to-be 52 year old mother of two grown sons with fond - no, make that life-changing memories of a teacher, like Mrs. Kamminga, who, in the 9th grade, taught me English, French, Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni - and me. Mrs. Alfreda Jenkins instilled in me a love of learning, self-respect, a pride in my blackness and a belief in my intelligence and abilities that I will never, ever forget. She believed in the "village" and its ability to care, guide, lead and transform and she showed it every single day of my high school life.

Tonight, I watched "The Education of Ms. Groves" on NBC. It was moving and tear-jerking and then some. Young Ms. Groves started out teaching her kids, leaning on today's established mores of education and it wasn't working. I thought aloud, "It's the village, don't forsake it - it WILL serve you." As I watched, her love of learning become a struggle which morphed into a tried and true return to the "village," the children blossomed!! She'd called on those abilities to soothe, inspire, understand and above all else, hold them accountable and it paid off.

The little girl from Mrs. Kamminga's class, though she'd not grown up as they did - got it, used it and passed it on to her kids (whether she knows it now or not). The love of learning her 1st grade teacher had instilled in her was a huge cornerstone upon which a wonderful career in teaching has, and is being built.

I am so, so proud of young Ms. Groves today. This little pint-sized woman, with such a big heart, will have one of these 6th grade students one day, feeling about her, the exact same way she felt about Mrs. Kamminga - and the circle of education will continue to be unbroken.


College Kid said...

That was a great show! It was very touching and I loved her passion, I only hope someday I have that for students in the school I work in. I wish more teachers had that passion for their students.

Deb said...

Yes, it was a very touching and passionate show! Can I offer a little advice? Instead of just hoping to have the same passion for students someday, RESOLVE that you will!

If teachers today would understand that they cannot keep doing the same things and expecting different results, like the young Ms. Groves did, there'd not only be more passionate teachers, but way more passionate students!

Don't know you, never met you but, just your reaching out here tells me you've got it in your heart. Go on out and do the damn thing! Keep me posted okay?

The First Domino said...

"The Education of Ms. Groves"

The title gives a hint of the remarkable thing that happens as we began to share knowledge by sharing ourselves--student as well teacher become the recipient of what is taught.

I haven't seen the show (would like to too, however) and that makes me ill-equipped to discuss it except in a general way.

Teaching is one of the most important professions in any society, with childrearing topping the list.

Note that I called childrearing a profession. It's not generally seen that way, as most of us approach it as laypersons, rather than as professionals, and are displeased when the results, oftentimes, come up short of the exceptional quality of workmanship, and achievement that we've come to expect from the least professional among us.

As I suggested earlier, educators teach more than facts, figures, and information, they teach an outlook and a mindset.

Better for the students if that mindset and outlook embraces some of the constructive values of society.

Unfortunately a values-curriculum is rarely taught alone with math, and reading--where the students are challenged to reach conclusions that are not pre-digested for the masses.

I dare say that your teacher's achievements--she "instilled in me a love of learning, self-respect, a pride in my blackness and a belief in my intelligence and abilities...."--go well beyond traditional education, where facts and information usually reign supreme.

Most parents (but not all) would probably oppose such a value-oriented approach to education, although that very approach is what is sorely needed in a society that seeks to better itself.

Your teacher, Deb, was a little ahead of her time. She knew that if she could instill within you a love of things black, then the efforts of the world to ply you with all things white, would have little effect in its attempt to openly declare the superiority of all things white.

My value-oriented teacher was Mrs. Betts. She made us proud of our black heritage, and gave us many glues on how to navigate a predominantly white world.

It was a one-room school comprised of six grades--first through sixth.

That educational setting has a great deal going for it, and perhaps should be considered as a viable model to overcoming classroom boredom, and underachievement.

A third grader for example was not only exposed to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade material ( a kind of preview of things to come), but was exposed to first and second grade instruction again (a review of previous instructions).

Since we were given the opportunity to assist those behind us, those ahead of us were allowed to assist those behind them (win-win all around).

Here's one of the saddest moments of my long career.

As a key organizer in the annual Black History Month "Living Legend" community project where noted black achievers in the arts were celebrated (Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., and Grammy Award winning artist Chaka Khan being two of the most recent recipients of the honor), I called on one of the local black schools to provide a student speaker for the program.

The principal brusquely replied that he had no student who was up to the task, as his students were only interested in classroom disruption, and other mischievous behavior.

And this was a middle-school!

I cleaned up his language a bit in my narration of the principle's response, and didn't relay the anger I could sense in his voice.

"...and the circle of education will continue to be unbroken", as well as the love we have one toward the other. said...

So moving....

So powerful...

Thanks so much for this...

Deb said...

blackwomenblowthetrumpet...¡No, gracias, por la lectura yo y por su comentario!

Okay, I cheated on the Spanish a little. No, a lot! My husband is a Spanish linguist and I asked him to help me say, "No, thank you so much for reading me and for your comment!" If what I said above is incorrect, we both apologize! :-) I think I've forgotten more Spanish than I've ever known, though I used to be pretty good when we lived in Panama and I was able to use it everyday!

I'm glad you were moved and thought it was powerful. I am moved and feel equally as powerful just thinking about what Mrs. Alfreda Jenkins gave to me.

I cannot give up on "my children" -born of me or not. I get where most of them are coming from and I want them to know that someone does. Maybe it'll make a difference - in some small way.

I read your posts often and am always thankful for your clarity and passion for our people. As an avowed "back-slider," I enjoy how you put it out there - no Bible-thumpin', no "Believe the way I do or perish," no "My beliefs are better than yours." You seem to meet people where you find them and then offer honest, well-thought out information for them to use or not use - their choice. We could use more of that in ministers today!

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