SURVIVING EDUCATION: BEHIND THE EYES OF AN INNER CITY CHILD
This article is intended to enlighten the public of some of our youth’s struggles while we as educators attempt to present them with the knowledge necessary to live successfully beyond the means of survival. The culture of inner city life exposes our youth to situations not evident or as prevalent in many suburban areas that pose academic focus as a challenge. It should also be noted that not all of our students come to us with extenuating circumstances or hardships. We are graced with high achieving students who have great support systems, and are easily teachable… and, we are equally privileged to be given the opportunity and challenge to make an even more unprecedented change in the students with life obstacles. I would like to thank all of my students for being patient with my efforts, trusting me as an educator, counselor, and confidante while allowing me to make a difference in their lives… This article is dedicated to them.
Behind the eyes of an inner city child, you’ll find truth: rape, molestation, abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, homelessness, drug use and distribution, despair, depression, and deprivation coinciding with awareness, sustenance, accountability, countenance, intellect, inquisitions, productivity, courage, and strength. For many of our inner city youth, truth in their eyes is real life… that which is formidable on a daily basis. It goes far beyond making it to school on time, the literary analysis of Shakespeare, voting for Homecoming Queen and King, or preparing for a midterm or final exam. Their truth encompasses the dysfunction of their environment, the struggles of their families, the inequitable loss of friends and loved ones to violence… and, the emotional, physical, and spiritual turmoil that has manifested itself into their souls as a result of their exposure to the depletion of value in opportunities of self-realization and self-worth.
Over the years and throughout my assignment of educating our youth, I’ve encountered an array of anecdotes shared with me by students who have in turn educated me on their reality. A reality that my training throughout college, inclusive of studies in child psychology, multicultural education, multi-disciplinary approaches, and the multiple intelligences framework could have never prepared me for. Their anecdotes have restructured my views on the aspects of teaching to yield success in children whose primary concern is day to day survival. Surviving another night on the streets without food, shelter, or security anxiously awaiting the opening of the school building for refuge… Surviving the walk home through a gang driven and drug infested neighborhood… Surviving another night of restraint and fighting off the hands meant to protect you but violating your innocence…
Surviving the effects of parental involvement of drug relations and FBI SWAT intrusions in your home while you care for your older brother who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, with both ultimately being forced into detainment for questioning… Surviving your mother’s murder followed by your father relinquishing his paternal rights forcing you to ascertain first hand, the pros and cons of the systematic realities of foster care at the age of 15… Surviving your diagnosis of Crohn’s disease during your senior year with multiple surgeries and faltering in faith while your mother works multiple shifts, as a single parent, to balance medical and daily living needs for you and your 6 siblings. These are the stories that are shared by our students, and they are only a fraction of the dilemmas faced with the added pressure of academic achievement and success. These references are not meant for you to frown upon, or in any instance compel to excuse our youth for their lack of motivation when it comes to academics; but, for you to embrace, with compassion, an understanding of the reasoning behind their actions and motives which we often view as misappropriate.
When I discuss my occupation among associates or other professionals, most of their responsive conversation alludes to them feeling sorry for my “situation”. Teaching in the inner city is not a “situation” but a “service” to our youth, and an assignment and responsibility that God has given me, along with many other educators, in an attempt to affect change in a system that is illuminated with chastisements and irrational convictions. Our youth need to be encouraged and supported, not to be told that they are incapable of success because of their circumstances. We, as adults, have to show them “different” in order for them to believe that a difference is possible. We, as adults, have to stand firm in the belief of our youth to succeed and not abandon their efforts when our efforts are seemingly unrecognized, unappreciated, or devalued. Our youth need to know that we will stand beside them throughout their struggles and stride toward success. No, the mindsets of our youth will not change drastically in a short period of time… and yes, there are those who are going to be rebellious regardless of who stands behind the extended hand, and who lack an affirmation of change and self-worth. The bottom line is there are young people who are hurting and yearning for change but do not have the proper guidance needed for growth that is conducive to becoming a viable part of society. The change begins with us as parents, educators, and community leaders believing in the future of our youth regardless of the deterioration of their dispositions. We are responsible for instilling value and morale. We have to be living examples in order for change to extinguish our youths’ corrupted mannerisms. Everyone deserves to be loved… Everyone deserves to know that they have support regardless of their past challenges, choices, and mistakes… and, every one of our youth, who didn’t ask to be put in most of their situations, deserves a chance at lifelong success: a different perspective of “truth”.
“Pray until something happens” and act on your belief”
Our schools yield scholars with life lessons of courage, strength, and endurance. It takes a lot for a young person to survive daily life and continue to strive… and, I accredit my students with recognizing that “giving up” is not an option. So, before you judge their actions or proclaim that they are worthy of no more than becoming menaces to society, why not make a stance to change your perspective and put forth an honest effort to at least P.U.S.H for the future of our youth. “Pray until something happens” and act on your belief. We have to change in order for them to follow and ultimately lead.