An interesting quote from Mike Rose, in his book Why School, can be used as the general overview for this post, “Why school? provides the occasion – within limited space, admittedly – to consider issues together in their lived, human context.” (Rose, 2009). Rose used personal stories to convey his message about schools that is much more than standardized tests and data. He used the vignettes as emotional connections to show a humanistic approach to school. So, as educators, we have to convey our own personal stories to show the transformative power of education.
We’ll start with one question – What does education or your profession mean to you?
I think this is a good question to think about why one wants to work in education. There’s a light switch that comes on which signifies the moment you decided to be an educator. Some call it a calling, a burden, a curse… yet Angelina Jolie has stated on popular media channel E! News that, “Teachers are the real heroes who educate our children and are doing a wonderful job.”
But why be an educator or anything else for that matter? Is it because it’s what I chose to do or something that I fell into?
There are a lot of questions; yet, it’s not about having answers. It’s the reflective and contemplative process, which is almost like a religious experience or calling.
I can remember when I was a little girl in church how people would become overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. People would shout, clap, cry, sing, and wave their hands all in praise and worship. No one ever made them act this way; yet, many would testify about the wonderful things that the Lord made possible in his/her life. They overcame obstacles such as sickness, financial problems, domestic strife, unemployment, abuse, drugs/alcohol addiction, etc. In this reflective state, many would become overwhelmed AND overjoyed.
In a community like the church, each person has a role or duty to others so that the community can function effectively. Someone is the pastor, some are the trustees, some are the stewards, some handle administrative work, some sing in the choir, and we even need someone to keep the church clean.
So I picked the role of educator or did it pick me?
In my family I come from a long line of teachers and preachers. It’s as hereditary as high blood pressure and diabetes. Therefore, was I destined to be an educator? Is it my destiny to ask these questions? Rose explains, “We educate to pass on traditions and knowledge, to prepare the young for democratic life to foster moral and intellectual growth, to enable individual and societal economic prosperity” (Rose, 2009). I feel this has been my training to accept the role of education in my family.
The legacy of higher education in my family goes back three generations. Although we are not well off and working class, my family understood the value of education. A favorite saying in my family is, “They can take your freedom away, but they can’t take away your education.” We couldn’t pass wealth on from parent to child but we could pass education. We understood that freedom is knowledge but, being African American, we are a marginalized group that struggles to attain equal opportunities in education. Education is so important in my own family history, which correlates with my attitudes towards higher education in African American history.
My family has a history of graduates from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, which was founded in 1891. Most of my family members have attended NC A & T for their undergraduate degrees, including my parents. My family like other African Americans participated in the W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington debate over the purpose of education. My family sided with DuBois’ argument that a liberal education will not only free the mind but also the person as well. In essence, it isn’t meaningful to earn a living without enjoying the rights of citizenship and equality. Also, without a liberal education of disciplines such as history, psychology, mathematics, sciences, English, and sociology, knowledge isn’t complete. It’s important to achieve higher education for not only a career but to understand the importance of the self, one’s community, and society. That’s the importance of education. As I reflect on my family and their goals in education, it has always been the key to improving ourselves.
This is my family’s story and legacy. I am third generation of college graduates and one of the few who attended a top 25 predominately white universities. With all of my family behind me, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame. I would be the first to attend Harvard University where I earned my Masters Degree in Education. I will be the second on my mom’s side and the first on my dad’s side to earn their doctorate.
Yet, I will be one of many who have become educators.
I do have many talents that I could have chosen many fields but none make me as impassioned as education. It is the be all and end all. It is the answer to the inequalities in a society; so when money, power, and politics can’t fix it… education will.
Yet why did I choose a profession where as Rose explains politicians and everyone else thinks that he/she can teach or be “teacher for a day”. Educators are sometimes praised but also blamed as the problem in public education.
Education is empowerment to know and understand one’s worth in the world. Anyone can learn to do something. It’s democratic; a right and a duty. This is the reason that we must teach people to fish; so, that they can make a living as opposed to giving them fish so that they live.
Rose states, “Americans have long looked to education as a way to advance themselves. They also see it is as the primary means to overcome social class inequalities; Horace Mann called education ‘the great equalizer’ for those born of humble origins. These powerful beliefs lead us to another cultural tangle. Education is a means to enhance one’s economic prospect.” (Rose, 2009)
Yet, Rose goes on to explain that education alone can’t trump the inequalities in our society such as racism, sexism, classism, etc. There needs to be other public services/programs packaged together in order to completely help families like the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) program. HCZ adopts a a block in Harlem and provides services and programs for the families that live on that block. This is a comprehensive and holistic vision for families with education being a big factor. Rose would agree with the implementing HCZ-like programs and states, “In essence, we need a bountiful vision of human potential, illustrated through the schoolhouse, the workplace, and the community” (Rose, 2009).
Rose does take a liberal stance when he poses questions such as what is the purpose of education especially considering intellectual, civil, and moral development. He writes in a way that is storytelling to drive his points. Is it life or rebirth for some and death or pain for others? Is it reaching your potential by doing your best?
Why be an educator? Why do we educate?
I’m a nontraditional educator with traditional beliefs in education because I believe education is a crucial part of human development. In trying to reach the youth today, we must be honest with ourselves and understand our struggle to work for them, with them, through them. As Rose states, “Young people mystify and frighten us; they’re opaque, alienated, asocial” (Rose, 2009). They are fascinating creatures because they can be anything that we say they are and most will internalize it. These mini-Mes have work ethic, talents, challenges, potential, values, behavior, attitude, and opportunity. They are truly miracles in a vexed and perplexed existence. We’re expected to guide when we may not know all of the answers; yet, we can be used as references to get the right information or go to the right resource.
Again Rose explains the importance of education, “A good education helps us make sense of the world and find our way in it… Reading and writing gave me skills to create with and to act on the world” (Rose, 2009). I fully agree with Rose that the education that I gained from attending school fulfilled my identity and way of life. We have to continue the freedoms of education and not be gatekeepers to privatize education
Rose asks pertinent questions, “How to educate a vast and stratified population? How to bring schooling to all? What to teach and how to teach it? Who will do it? What will the work mean to them?” Most importantly, how do we address the many needs of young people?
In order to solve our big societal problems, the nation will look to education. This the reason why I’m an educator so that I can make the biggest impact. Our education reflects us as a nation.
As educators, most of us enjoy where we are at the present moment. We wouldn’t have dedicated most of our lives to education and sacrificed so much for something that we didn’t love. For most of us, we know that this is where it’s at!
P.S. We all need to reflect on why we were called to our profession in order to go forward in our lives. When were you called?