An Urban Education Wishlist

I was at a _________________ recently. I’m going to leave out the word for the sake of ambiguity. It was one of those events where you sit at tables with people you don’t know and either get along swimmingly or dig your fingernails into your palms as they wax poetic about something infuriating. I could not stop staring at and listening to a woman whining about Baltimore (a blog for another day). She rambled about the crime “they don’t tell you about,” and the utterly sinister people who reside there (my words, not hers). She shared her one example of each of the city’s transgressions–her cousin’s stolen tools, a death she knew of, and a crime she’d heard from someone who heard from…someone! GASP!

We get it. There’s crime in Baltimore. Duh. But maybe your idiot cousin shouldn’t leave his tools on the front seat of his car. I particularly loved this anecdote from her because she had asked where I lived before this. I told her. And then she told her tales to the other lady at our table as an example of how everyone’s got it wrong about the very neighborhood I told her I lived in. Couth.

When she started a sentence “You should see the types of people,” I had to get up from the table. These are phrases I hear and then feel in every single ligament, muscle, tendon, bone, and in the the cartilage in my ears. And I do hear them. In fact, I listen for them. Partially because I fancy myself a defender of many things. Partially because I need to know what bigotry I am up against. Mostly because I so badly want to change a mind, help someone see something another way. And, in the depths of my heart, it’s because I’m just an ass hole.

Listening to “These types of people” made me wish I weren’t too angry at that stranger to talk to her. I wanted to pull her aside and tell her my wishlist for the people who live in the city, namely for the children. Maybe she could help. Better yet, maybe her tool-less cousin could help.

My disclaimer is that this list is not complete nor completely thorough. It is my imagination and my idealist-self manifest. I am not going to pretend it is well-researched or scholarly. It’s emotion and a cursory knowledge of why I see what I see every day. So here is an incomplete, Amandy-crafted, rawly emotional urban education wishlist. It’s my blog and I can cry if I want to.

1. I wish that everyone, seriously everyone, had to tour a school in their own neighborhood and one in an urban area (if he/she did not live in an urban area). I think it would open a lot of eyes just to see what schools looks like inside, especially urban schools. See what we do. See what we cannot do. See what we need. See what we do not need. See the eyes of a child who does not have parental support but wants so desperately to learn. Just see. I dream of these tours for the public. I would be happy to lead them. I’d call it “Balti-tour, School Edition.”

I’d introduce you to A who cannot sit in a chair but is five grade levels behind. She’d show you her writing in our 5th/6th class and you’d see that every piece begins “Hi, I’m A and I love basketball,” because that’s where she is right now.

You would meet B who is above grade level and above maturity level but has to deal with the behaviors of her peers every day. She would show you her campaign for school president: “Liberty, Justice, and Hoodies.”

T would come up to you with no introduction except a hug. She may show you that she covered her hands in glue in math class because focusing is just so difficult. She’d hand you a piece from art class and tell you to keep it. Then as you turned to go, she would ask when you’re coming back.

2. I wish that my kids knew how intensely we want them to succeed. I wish they could walk around in my head like “Inside Out,” move things around and really see that my driving force is their success. I wish they knew that when I ask them to take off their jackets or point out that they threw trash in the recycling, I am merely showing them how to be citizens. That same intensity I felt for that woman’s words (every single ligament, muscle, tendon, bone, and in the the cartilage in my ears), I feel it times a million for my kids’ success. And I really wish they knew.

3. I wish that people, including our kids, respected schools as coliseums of learning. I wish there weren’t trash all over our campus. I wish we didn’t have to have bars on our windows to stop break-ins.

My crew and I did a trash-pick a few months ago. We filled four large bags in 20 minutes and we still weren’t done but it was time for the classes to change. They loved doing it. But then, there is also a trash on the ground problem inside of our school, too. Somehow I wish we could teach them to respect this place that works obsessively for their success. But, in a building from 1953 with mice, cockroaches, opaque windows, and on and on, how can we?

4. Aside from the state of the building and the lawns that surround it and the other barriers mentioned and not mentioned above, I wish my kids knew how great they have it. I can show them a video about Malala Yousafzai and they can see her facial paralysis from her gun shot to the head. I can tell them about how my Afghani friend had to leave her country because she taught women. We can read about Little Rock and Ruby Bridges. I can go on about how our desks and chairs are new and cute! I can trail off on how I literally just memorized things when I was in school and they actually get a chance to learn. For realz, learn. But when you start on a tangent like that it’s usually met with 180 degree eye roll and a catchphrase like “These teachers…” I get it. But I wish they knew.

5. I wish I were different too. I wish I could better see my kids’ perspective. From a selfish point of view, I don’t wish that–many of them have gone through way more than I have in a third of the time. I grew up near some of them but my schooling was completely different. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a brother or not know my father. Not cursing my blessings, but somehow if I could know their perspective without having lived it, I’d do it. I’m not nearly as brave or strong as most of my kids.

6. I wish they knew how deeply I feel cut when they insult me, ignore me, or just apathize (should be a word, right?). Sometimes they do know because I cry, and kind of a lot, but I wish they knew that I carry that around. I wear those comments, eye rolls, and blank, untouched papers like so many saddle bags. I’m getting better at pretending things roll off my shoulders. But that’s pretend. At the heart of this matter, I wish that some of them knew better how to treat people, because I wish they’d been treated better by others first. You give what you get.

Conversely, but still #6:

I wish they knew how incredible it feels to receive an email like this one I got Thursday:

“HI Ms.Eby

thank you so much being there for me in such a hard time.And i know you have problems of your own like kids being smart and rude but you are one of the nicest person i know .Have a good day”
That’s what removes the saddle bags. That’s why I wish with every single ligament, muscle, tendon, bone, and in the the cartilage in my ears that they knew. All of the theys. Hey, a girl can wish.

One thought on “An Urban Education Wishlist

  1. Once again you nailed it! And here’s a thought brought on by reading this and after attending your class poetry slam. Instead of trying to get people to tour an urban school you could take the poets on a speaking tour. Make it easier for outsiders to hear the gritty reality of your student’s lives.


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