Monday, August 17, 2009

A little bit MidWest of Eden...

I had my orientation with the Saint Paul Public Schools today (SPPS)*, and I finally realized how large the task ahead of me is, and what kind of people and struggles I will meet along the way. Some people just. don't. get it.

The Community Outreach Coordinator that met with us today talked about decidedly uncomfortable facts. Individuals with privilege are the ones that succeed within the current system. This predominantly means the white students in middle to upper-class socioeconomic situations—i.e. Being born into the “right” race at the “right” time. This is what the Outreach Coordinator had said to us, and I completely agree, as should anyone who recognizes privilege and its relation to education. However, one cracked up lady in the back piped up about how uncomfortable she felt with the language of “right” and “wrong” in regards to race and privilege “With all our diverse backgrounds I don't see how 'right' and 'wrong' are applicable” she said. She. Does. Not. Get it. It's her refusal to accept and own up to her own privilege (she was white, by the way, and daintily eating a fruit salad with a silver fork—presumably because the lunch we were provided was not adequate for her desires...excuse me...needs? ) that perpetuates the cycle of inferiority. What the Outreach Coordinator meant, which was clear to everyone around us, was that it is mere chance and situation that places us within our respective positions of privilege, or non-privilege.

What scares me is the damage this woman has the power to cause at her service site by socializing the students she works with. Not that it would be widespread or even noticeable on the surface, but the imperceptible continuation of her inability to talk about privilege and its effects means that she has the power to influence children to also not talk about it. If someone is uncomfortable talking about issues so difficult, the trajectory of these damaging hierarchies remains the same. Racism and classism do not go away by ignoring them and not talking about them. I learned today that my job includes not only teaching children this, but possibly educating my peers.

Encountering uninformed, yet self-righteous individuals has already become commonplace in this job (well, and my life). During one of the days of training (we were learning an early literacy intervention technique) a woman started ranting about how she was uncomfortable (people always use “discomfort” to describe situations they disagree with, is this just Minnesota Paggro? Or are all pseudo hippie weirdos like this?) with the idea that the MN Reading Corps helps the children on the “cusp,” i.e. the children who we can help improve greatly within the three years we are available to them (aforementioned in previous blog about What I Do). After 20 minutes of interruptions and repetitions, my training instructor finally got the woman down off her high horse, or at least stuffed her mouth with a knowledge rag to chew on for a bit. After three days of interactions like this at training, and a fourth day of paggro whiners at orientation, I started to worry about my ability to maintain sanity during this job.

I'm holding out for those “eureka!” moments with children that I work with on a day to day basis—the rest will just have to be practices in patience. And those moments where kids crawl under desks, and yawn through their phonetics practice, 'cause DAMN that's cute.

*This blog in no way represents the views of the MRC, MLC, SPPS, or Americorps

1 comment:

Steak Sandwich said...

I'm so sorry I'm just terrible at keeping correspondance. I read your last two blog posts, you seem to have gotten into some really cool stuff. I should note that I use the bike tool you gave me every other day- it's hella awesome. Persephone (my bike) thanks you for it. Seriously though du courage with this litteracy work I hope it's rewarding.
Hopefully we'll work out a skype chat sometime, if not I'll write you an email.
donni ké