T. Elijah Hawkes wrote an excellent article in this month’s Phi Delta Kappan entitled, No Child’s Fate is Sealed. I want to draw your attention to his article because it was inspirational to me. He captured the most important reasons why school exists for students. It isn’t about the learning content, being on teams or clubs and getting good grades. It is aboutdiscovering yourself in a community of people who care about you. Mr. Hawkes eloquently describes his contrasting experiences at James Baldwin School in New York City that serves a high-poverty area of the city and his experience as associate principal at Randolph Union High School in Vermont. While the two schools’ cultures are extremely different, they share many characteristics in common. He points out that those similarities represent the common aspirations of all good schools that their students grow up to be healthy and fulfilled citizens.
I was fascinated by how Mr. Hawkes told a beautiful story about the value of people being interconnected through their experiences at his schools. Teachers, students, parents and other community members are bound together through their shared experiences in school. The school that successfully builds a strong community has forged a strong foundation for their students. The community they are members of will support them and nurture them well when they go into the world no matter what they do. This comes to light when he tells the story of a boy who returns to Randolph one day looking for a Band-Aid for his injured leg. Why did he return? The reader is left to wonder, but one could only conjecture that the boy felt at home when he was a student at Randolph. The “sense of home” brings with it warmth, caring and love. That’s enough to bring anyone back for a little help.
Mr. Hawkes writes
educators must be animated by a special faith that no child’s fate is sealed, that each one’s mind and life are open for hope and transformation. (page 61)
He goes on to write:
No matter where we teach, educators have to believe that young people can persevere, even with–to quote James Baldwin–“generations of bad faith and cruelty” weighing upon their childhood shoulders.
Good teachers believe in their students. They don’t come to school to fill the minds of their students with knowledge. They come to school ready to engage the minds of their students and help them connect to the community of learners. It is through community and relationships to others that we come to know ourselves. Knowing ourselves is the path to leading a successful, fulfilled and cherished life.
Mr. Hawkes ends his story with a powerful image:
It’s hard work (schooling), but we can do a good job of it, especially if we work in partnership with families and the broader citizenry–and especially if what binds us together is that other tough connecting tissue: Love.
So I hope you take the time to read his piece and reflect on the value and meaning of community in your school. How is everyone connected in your school? Are the bonds strong? I also hope you enjoy his piece as much as I did. Share your thoughts!