Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thank a Teacher

It's college graduation season, and we've attended a couple of ceremonies and parties for  young African women.  I admit since the politics of presidential elections is already underway, I can get a bit depressed about the future of our country as I scan the headlines, but when you sit amongst young people with fresh new diplomas and a whole bucket full of dreams, it can leave you feeling hopeful.

We went to the home of a Somali family where shoes were scattered across the front porch and down the hallway as everyone took them off before entering. A large prayer rug was laid out on the front lawn so the men could pray together. You could hear at least three languages being spoken, though I think our host said we had eight countries represented.  It was like being at a United Nations meeting. People sat on the floor, on couches, or at folding chairs on the deck.  The buffet included falafel, injeera (like buckwheat crepes), goat meat, hummus, pita bread and couscous.  Spices wafted in the air.  It was definitely not like the gatherings we had when I was a kid!

Delicious buffet



At one of the parties, I was chatting with a group of women who came from five different African nations. All of them had more education than myself, even though I'm a college graduate.  All had become American citizens. They wore the most amazing dresses covered in bright flowers, while I just threw on something from the back of my closet.  This is usually how it goes.  I used to apologize for being underdressed or tried to spend the whole time by my husband's side, but now I try to fit in, or at least learn something useful.  One of the ladies asked how it was being married to a Somali and always being in the minority (the only white lady at the party).  I guess I've been doing this long enough now that I usually don't feel like I stand out too much, and I've gotten past the discomfort that I had initially. I always enjoy these discussions, because once you begin a conversation, it opens doors into beliefs, religions, and cultural norms. It suddenly occurred to me that I am kind of different.  Then I considered why that might be.

Back in high school, I had some teachers that liked to push somewhat liberal ideas out there for us to explore.  We studied Apartheid and world affairs on a deeper level than most people I knew from other places.  I realized it when I became an exchange student and had to reach out to my teacher Ms. Cameron for more information on the topic.  In the late 70s, we didn't have the internet resources that make research so much easier for today's students.  I was in a high school of 3000 students and maybe 7 were African American. I had a psychology teacher, Mr. Sippy, who was very interested in world affairs but put the psychological spin on things.  I loved going to that class.  These teachers gave me a curiosity for the world, and are responsible for the choices I've made since then when forging friendships and even a marriage with someone born on a different continent.  Thanks to teachers like them, my life is richer, broader, and more interesting than it might have been if I'd spent the bulk of my adult life in one city.

My husband was just in Washington DC for a transportation summit at the White House.  One of the speakers told them how we are failing at educating adults.  Too many people get their news from entertainment programs and can't understand complex issues like how developing infrastructure affects the cost of goods.  There was an example of how if you add lanes of traffic or rebuild a bridge, you can send more trucks, thus reducing the time used to ship goods and it will ultimately cost the consumer less than if the bridge was closed down and the truck rerouted.  Look at anyone's Facebook rants about politics and you see that too many of us just copy something we've seen without fact checking or doing some critical thinking.  Now our governor is just one of the people reducing the education budget.  We spend about 2% on education and 18% on defense.  Take a look at this report to learn more about where our tax dollars go.  Want to know how we compare to other nations?  It was educational for me when my husband shared it.  It seems like we should spend on education if it means better understanding about global issues and it will expand minds and hearts to people across borders.  Too many teachers are opting out of those jobs because we are moving towards testing rather than teaching...examinations rather than exploring.

If you have the opportunity, reach out to someone who is different from yourself.  Listen. Observe. Be curious.  You're sure to walk away just a bit smarter about the world.  And thank the teachers who got you where you are today.


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