March 12, 2014

Failure IS an Option...

My last post of 2013 was an introduction to my educational journey. After a few more recent dust ups on social media, my credentialing still being challenged, and other personal attacks being aimed in my direction, let me aim back and set the record straight.  I completely understand that in this microwave era, many folk have already made up their minds about my positionality to respond to the inequities in public education, education policy, and my intellect all together. However, if you are someone willing to listen to truth and complexity, here we go...

As I left the Public Relations agency and entered the world of formal education, I came to the profession with trepidation.  My grades never reflected my “true abilities.” This was a term I saw all too often on report cards all through middle school, high school, and if there had been a place for them to have made the comment, in college too.  I have always been a cerebral person who tries to think from multiple angles.  What that means is that while I can write with precision, that precision becomes less impactful when given multiple choices via test or through short answer responses.  Further, the more personal my relationship was with my teachers and professors, the more they understood that I my poor outcomes on testing demonstrating “text anxiety” and not “laziness,” or lack of intellect.  

In retrospect, some 25 years later, seeing the pervasive and disparate numbers of black boys in special education, remediation, suspensions and the like, I wonder if I too would have fallen “victim” and become a negative statistic rather than a positive one?  If I had attended public school for more than a year in high school and two in grade school, would I have succeeded in all the arenas I have entered?  Would I have been exposed to the same opportunities?  Would I have the same friends who have been there for decades to pick me up and motive me towards success?  Of course I cannot definitively say, but one can wonder...

When I started teaching Service Learning (called Community Learning) at Lab, I was “going home.” 
Having been a student there for four years, I was, by no means a lifer as so many of my friends were, but I did feel a sense of home that had been absent from many of my professional endeavors.  My position gave me the best of both worlds at Lab.  I was able to explore the city with students who had been out of the country abroad, but had hardly scratched the surface of their own city.  Because of my status as an alum, which I never wore on my sleeve, but was quickly found out nonetheless, I was able to connect with the day to day milieu that so many students experience in independent school settings – test, homework, community service (both religious and “required” from school), extra-curricular activities, travel, college expectations and pressures, and of course being a high school teen. This meant that I "understood" them and expected their excuses and challenges before they even were uttered.

At the beginning, some of those sophomores who entered my “classroom” (i.e. the Van that carried about 25-40% of the students to and from their service site) thought I was nothing more than a glorified bus driver.  That sentiment quickly vanished when they realized that in most instances (hospitals being one area where I did not), I volunteered right alongside them, modeling how to work with the various populations of ‘other;’ Latino grade school kids in Pilsen, Senior citizens in Woodlawn and Uptown, and Black youth from the Cabrini Green Housing complex on the near north side, just to name a few of my favorite sites.  In each of these areas, for the duration of my tenure I not only modeled, but taught, mentored, comforted and educated bilaterally – meaning those we were serving had preconceived notions of our students, and of course our students had preconceived notions of where we were volunteering.  One of the best ways I acclimated many of the students not just to the volunteer site, was through immersing them into the community, oftentimes through food, but also various cultural events.  This, as I found out later, was the epitome of John Dewey’s philosophy of “learning by doing.” Thus whenever someone ask me about my number of years “in the classroom,” I always include my years at Lab because the community and van were my classroom and I affected intellectual change deeply in those students who entered this domain as much as any book or test about community would have, even more so. 

After a point, as I was approaching 30, I realized that as much as I loved (and still do) this position, it was time to take my knowledge from Capitol Hill and the communities of Chicago to my desired career goal, law school.

As the new century approached, I applied to many law schools on the west coast.  I was rejected from most, in part based on my poor LSAT score, and was wait listed at one, in northern California. Rather than wait to find out if a spot opened, I took a crazy chance and went up to the Bay Area to meet with the admissions folk and a few professors face to face.  After a few weeks of pounding the pavement in the Bay Area, nothing worked out.  Not only did I not get into law school, I couldn’t even find a job in the area.  In retrospect, perhaps then I should have looked at entering the classroom as a substitute teacher then, but it was not on my radar at that time.

Rather than come back to Chicago, I flew down to Los Angeles, a place where I had gone to college and still had a few contacts and friends.  I came to LA LA Land at exactly the wrong time.  There was a transit strike going on, and of course, here I was without a car.  Again, I persisted and tried to make things work for a few weeks, but eventually returned home to Chicago.  Broke, embarrassed, and a failure.

Part III coming soon…

1 comment:

  1. Very cool to hear about your background and experience, Stuart.