You Asked for It

I got an email from a retired colleague of mine today that had me doubled over with laughter. It was titled “Why Teachers Drink” and I have to say I could relate on many levels.

If I was technolgically crafty, I’d have the images cut and pasted here for your amusement. Sadly, you’ll just have to trust me. With questions like, “Find x” and the student’s response was to circle the “x” with a written note that said, “Here it is,” this email shined a silly light on the realities of teaching that give me the daily option of laughing or crying.

Take yesterday. My teacher’s aide, done with the work I needed her to do, took out binder paper and pen to write a letter to her boyfriend. In my mind I thought, “Look at that! Letter writing isn’t a lost art after all!” When I told her how sweet I thought it was that she was taking the time to hand write a letter instead of just sending a text, I asked her if they wrote to each other often. She replied with an almost heartbreaking tone of realism, “Ms. Elliott, we have to write each other. He’s in jail.”

Oh. So much for romance. I might have laughed at myself for being naive except for one critical element not yet mentioned: my teacher’s aide is seventeen years old and six months pregnant.

So when we ask our students where the Declaration of Independence was signed and they respond, “at the bottom,” we could cry in our martinis over the declining interest our kids have in their educations or we could look at what might be the real issue: maybe we aren’t asking the right questions.

Further, maybe we aren’t listening for the genius in their answers. When we ask them how Romeo’s character developed over time and they respond, “It didn’t, he was all about self, self, self,” isn’t that really a profound insight?

Weigh in. Are we asking the right questions? Are we listening for the right answers?

“My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.”

I am deeply tied to my work as a Woman’s Studies teacher for many reasons, most of which center on the fact I empower my students by helping them find a more full and authentic sense of themselves. While I know I educate the handful of young men in my room every year about how they, too, can embody the ideals of feminism–which, after all, begin and end with the right for men and women to have equitable choices and opportunity for success–my work in this vein is geared toward empowering young women.

I know that is my purpose, but I also know I can only get so far in my work with young women without a man doing the same kind of work with young men.

Educator and activist, Tony Porter, delivers a TED talk about the box men are raised in and the impact that has on women. As inspiring as it is, it reminds me that the best way we can get this crazy world on track is if we do it together. Be it with their sons or their students, I hope this talk inspires the men in our audience to do work of the same kind.

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