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I Have a Dream Part II

January 5, 2012
education new orleans life is a beautiful struggle

DO NOW: What does "Life is a beautiful struggle" mean to you?

We came back from Christmas break on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday, and most of my students have finally shown their faces. They don’t come to school the first day after vacation, or the last day before vacation, or when it’s cold, or when it’s raining. Or on Mondays. Or Fridays. Attendance is an issue.

We started this week by watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom speech. Most of us know this speech as the I Have a Dream speech, which incredibly was the only improvised part of the speech. My guess is that many in his audience didn’t understand the powerful oration full of historical and religious references enough to comprehend his entire message. My students struggled to understand most of it, but they get the dream part. Many of them have it memorized.

Yesterday we watched the first 8 minutes of Barack Obama’s 2004 DNCC keynote address where Obama tells his story to the world, how his family persevered and worked hard to take advantage of the magic of America to propel him forward.

Today we started class with Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, writing thesis statements for our next writing project about what in this world we’d like to change. Most students wanted to stop violent crime, killing, peer pressure, drop-outs. One kid wanted prenups to end, but once I explained what a prenup was, he just wanted divorce to be fair for everyone. One student wants no taxes. He spelled it texes. Close enough.

After 2 days of inspirational speeches and songs, and the kids themselves saying that if you want change to come, you can make it happen, today I heard over and over, “YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE THAT.” These kids have been told and shown over and over again that you can’t change crime, that senseless killing will always be a part of life, that violence is as natural as breathing.

Scary, these kids, who sit in my room every day:

“I got 4 new tattoos for Christmas!”

“My cousin got shot 23 times!”

“Why is history always the same?”

I keep my smile on and respond:

“Four? Wow!”

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

“Because history was in the past, and the past doesn’t change.”

As I read about New Orleans’ 199 killings in 2011, I wonder cynically if we’re paving the future with education in New Orleans, or just holding our collective breath, waiting for the wave of the past to fold over and envelop us.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2012 11:27 pm

    hmmm… sunny dawn… gut wrenching. pretty powerful stuff you’re exposing them to. this is when it’s hard to see that you’re making a difference, but you are. you teach me just by writing these posts.
    p.s. what do your students call you? do they know how rad your name is? because i KNOW you are their SUNNY when their skies are grey

    • January 6, 2012 11:50 am

      My students call me Ms. Summers, but they freaked when they found out my whole name. Some of them like to sing-song Sunny Dawn Summers, which I love.

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