I recently read the book “The Other Wes Moore” and it really got me thinking about education, “the system”, family, poverty, and the reality of life for so many of the students I serve each day, and many more across the country.
Here’s part of the description from the back of the book:
“Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?”
Since reading the book, I’ve wrestled with that last question in the description. Or with this idea, better stated by Moore:
“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
But what does that really mean? And the truth is that I don’t know. But I wrestle with it as an educator working to prepare students for high school and college, fully understanding the benefits that come from being in the “right” school (or the “right school for you”). And I guess, if I think about it in the scope of my professional work, my goal is to, as best I can, ensure that my school is a “full-option provider”, meaning that when students leave here, they have the full-range of options at their disposal so that they can create the life that they want.
So that they can have a life of “want-tos” instead of “have-tos”. So that they can choose instead of having it chosen for them.
And that’s all well and good, but there’s also the understanding that a wrong choice NOW (even as middle school students), can essentially wipe out their options, or reduce them to being so few that they may as well not have any. Today’s poor choices are a down-payment on tomorrow’s problems.
So, while I wrestle with that, I also wonder how do you teach students to make good choices? Not only make good choices, but make good choices for good reasons? And if you can teach that, then that must be part of the teaching that is included in our school.
I wish I had the answers. I so desperately wish that I understood what can sometimes seem to be a formulaic equation to success. Oh, how I wish that I could guarantee that by doing these things and not doing those things, would put students on a path to success. But it’s much deeper than that. It’s cultural and institutional. It’s family life. It’s access (or lack of access) to resources. It’s the fact that I’m trying to teach something intangible that an entire segment of the population never has to consider. Because the truth of the matter is that for some students, a poor choice equates to an elimination of options, but for others, a poor choice equates to an litany of excuses followed by quick explanations and forgiveness.
So, you find yourself teaching contingencies. You’re teaching “if/then” scenarios, to make sure that your students are always prepared. You find that being a “full-option provider” also means teaching that you will STILL have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But not only that, you must do it every day. There are no days off. There are no shortcuts. There are no excuses, because somewhere, someone is waiting to excuse your success as the exception instead of the norm.
As I wrestle with all of this, I find myself in a state of gratitude. Gratitude for those who took to the time to teach me all of those things, to make sure that I had every option available at my disposal. But also gratitude for the opportunity to mold and shape the next generation. It’s something that I enjoy, and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. May God continue to give me the strength and grace to serve these students, who are His children, in a way that glorifies Him.
Until next time…