Monday, February 08, 2016

Never Stop Fighting

The following is a reflection written by Jacob Storck, one of this year's South House Volunteers. Jacob serves as a  teacher at Perspectives Middle Academy.

I consider myself to be an educator, youth worker, mentor, and advocate.  When I walk into my service site every day, I recognize that it is my duty to not only impart science knowledge upon my students, but to provide them with the structure and skills they need in order to make their way in the world.  My students do not come from the same place that I came from.  The majority of them have grown up hearing gunshots in the night.  They have friends who have died as a result of gang violence.  They have been forced to grow up so much more quickly than I could ever have dreamed.  They have been hardened by the world in such a way that my blood boils when I think about the injustices that they have endured, even without realizing it.  When they walk into my classroom I often need to remind myself of this.  The disruptive behaviors that they often display are direct and indirect results of the way the greater society has abandoned their community, leaving children to grow up amidst a war zone.  If there is one thing that I know with every fiber of my being, it is that every human being on this earth is deserving of, and entitled to, a quality education.  Every child born deserves books, trained educators, basic classroom technology, and a safe and positive environment for learning to happen. 

When we talk about social justice, I truly believe that education is the foundation of it all.  In 2014, Chicago Public Schools announced a graduation rate of 66.3%.  Please take a moment and let that sink in.  That means that of every high school senior in Chicago, 33.7% did not graduate from high school and will NOT go on to pursue advanced degrees.  From where I stand, there is something gravely wrong with this picture, and it goes much deeper than students simply making the choice to drop out.  That choice is absolutely made, but not necessarily by the students.  The politicians make that choice when they implement standardized tests and various educational mandates, with no conception about how these affect the actual learning happening in the classroom.  That choice is made by officers of the law that gun down innocent young men and women, creating a sense of fear and panic in a community, and making survival a priority above education.  That choice is made by city officials who believe that the best way to help these communities is to send more police into them.  That choice is made by those who inequitably distribute funds to schools, with some receiving everything, and others receiving nothing.  Those of us who stand by and do absolutely nothing make that choice.  

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Volunteers created a map of all the systems associated or connected with the creation of mass incarceration after a presentation by Mariame Kaba, an organizer and educator focused on ending violence and dismantling the prison industrial complex.
How can a world be socially just when this is allowed to happen? How can we possibly move forward in any direction when we are failing to teach our future generation to read? The good news is that there is hope.  There are educators that I work with every day that care deeply and passionately about the education of our students.  There are many parents that I have spoken with, who want nothing more than the best possible education for their children.  There are schools like Perspectives Middle Academy, where I serve, whose goal is to prepare our students for college, regardless of the community they call home and the color of their skin.

Of course it is going to take more than just this.  What I am speaking of is real structural change in our educational systems, particularly in major cities like Chicago.  The problems we face are deeply systemic, and will take time and patience to solve. But what is more important than our children? Who is more deserving of our love? So please, never stop fighting.  This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.