Thursday, December 26, 2013

We have other roads to walk: Nelson Mandela, education, and global inequities. A post-Christmas thought

Yesterday, Christmas day, the twins, Mustapha and I went to see Long Walk to Freedom, the Nelson Mandela story. Although impossible to capture a life in 2+ hours, we decided that celebrating Mandela's last year of life through viewing a film about him on the largest holiday of the year might be the best way to spend December 25th: three Muslim young men from Liberia and me. When Mustapha planted the idea, I knew it was meant to be so we made it happen. We are in the United States - the land of power - and I would be dishonest if I ignored the parallels between southern Africa and the United States. The few enjoy a lifestyle of excess that the majority will never know - we in America are guilty of this. The great divide of opportunity is not only overseas; my experience in Connecticut schools (and New York/Louisville) demonstrates that what we view elsewhere with disdain we somehow tolerate in our own nation.

For the boys, the movie was a celebration of what is possible for humanity, for African retribution, and with hope for the enormous continent where they once resided. For me, I wondered about pacifying a Western world's interpretation of the Mandela narrative as simply a story line with little regard to colonialism, imperialism, and global history. After all, here were four men enjoying a Hollywood version of the Mandela story in Destiny - a robust mall built to bring customers to Syracuse, New York, to shop - on a day where all the grandiose, extravagant spending of American people is celebrated in a bonanza of commercialism covered up by a Christian story (at this time of the year, I can't help but realize I live with President's Snow's people in the Capitol). It is surreal to watch a film that is meant to capture one man's entire life existence. It can't be done, unless it is created to depict the stories we continue to tell ourselves: a larger narrative.

I can't speak for how the boys interpreted the film, although they were inspired. It's hard to grasp the vastness of Nelson Mandela's leadership because His accomplishments and what he stood for are larger than the life/lives I have known. Still, I can't help but think that his belief system is one I'd like to see carried forward in my own worlds, especially when it comes to equity in education in the United States.
  • As long as there are achievement gaps of any kind in America, we should be fighting to close them.
  • American educators should be politicizing their work through contacting local officials with the direct intention of educating them on the realities of classroom practices and what it will take to achieve with diverse student bodies. We should continue advocating the counter-narrative currently forced on teachers that they don't matter and they aren't effective. We need to carry the voice of Diane Ravitch into our environments with poise and intelligence.
  • We should find inspiration in the achievements of young men like Mustapha, Abu, and Lossine - three individuals that went to the film with me today and who arrived from extreme circumstances, war, poverty, and violence and who found themselves as college-enrolled achievers with eyes set on living the American Dream. How can our schools better support students like them? How do we fight against the institutional decisions made by non-educators about classroom policies that hinder helping young people to learn? 
  • When we see wrong, we need to call it out for what it is - WRONG. When we are reprimanded through heavy hands and stubborn minds, we should counter the bureaucracies with kindness, questioning, and intellect - that I learned from Nelson Mandela's example (although he, too, saw the need for violence when no one was paying attention). Learning from Mandela, we cannot be passive but should fight with integrity.
  • We should not be settled by the pampered nature of American luxury, especially if it comes at a cost of ignoring the vast inequities across our nation and around the globe. 1% of the world is college educated (31% of the nation) - this, in itself, speaks volumes about power and the access to opportunity. We need to fight harder to bring a better life to more people.
No, a blog post is not the appropriate space to fully articulate thoughts invoked by any story about Nelson Mandela, but it is a good location to start some thinking. I wrote about 46664 on this site before and made connections that other men, like Mandela, are doing international peace work like Emmanuel Jal (currently promoting Peace for Southern Sudan). As I transition out of 2013 and begin thinking about 2014, I'm looking to collect more energy to do the good work of these individuals. We have one life - and we should live it so it has meaning. There are still many roads we must walk.

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