06 November 2008

Change we can believe in!

Why blog? Why write?

Why think?

It's such a joy to turn myself loose whenever something catches my eye, however large or small the idea. I'm always happy about knowing something about something new, ya know.

The kids in my daughter's classroom have been a joy to get to know this year. My kid tests me like always and everyone else is trusting and testing me right on schedule. I swear the brown kids have collectively breathed some kind of sigh about me and decided I am on their side. I think it's because I really like each one of them.

It's a source of endless fascination to all of the kids that they are different from one another, in shape, size, color, hair, you name it. There are mixed-race families of all kinds, Indians married to whites, whites adopting Indians, black and white, gay and straight folks, young parents and older ones. Despite feeling their differences acutely, the kids resemble one another in almost every way, more than they can fathom at their young age. But they are growing up with a brown man as our country's president!

Anyway, on the 5th, the kids were abuzz with election news. "Tyson" came up to us on the playground before the first bell. He and I had been in a little jousting match lately; he'd been making a point of telling me he didn't want me to answer his questions when I came in to volunteer.

"That was quite an exciting election, wasn't it?" I said, as Tyson practically sputtered his words. "This election was all about change!" Tyson declared. "Change we can believe in!" He said the school vote had come to 380 for Obama and 150 for McCain. I haven't heard otherwise since.

Once all the kids had filed inside the classroom, and as soon as coats and bags had been stowed, the Spanish-speaking girls got down to rapt and rapid conversation. "La-li-la-la John McCain," I heard, not able to keep up with the urgently murmured words. One of McCain's supporters, "Meghan," before even hanging up her coat, made a beeline for the teacher. Meghan poured out a stream of frustration and sadness that lamented the vote having gone the wrong way for her and everyone in her family. The teacher nodded and empathized with her frustration but without totally agreeing with her charge's politics and not disclosing her own. She and I understood each other. But the children did not know whom the teacher had supported in the election. (That's why I found one of the ads for one of the Colorado ballot issues so offensive -- it almost made me vote against it.)

This historic election makes me happy for myself, with my threads of African and Native American descent along with the "Scotch-Irish" und lots of German. Who knows if anyone else in my ancestry was disavowed along the way (Jews, perhaps?). My ancestors did not uniformly seem to be the kind who advanced because of their tolerance for other cultures, other ways of life. Now all that mixing we have been doing all along can come out of the cultural closet. It may continue to reverberate and reveal to us something about how unnecessary that boundary truly is in our world. But it makes me positively overjoyed for my daughter and her peers, these truly wonder-filled sprouts of joy and energy bursting out into the world. From across the street when I was in the little school, that big public school made of bricks and concrete and pavement seemed so white and sterile. Now that we are families of that big public school, it feels warm and welcoming; it has a supportive structure for the many things everyone needs and wants to provide for this new crop of learners and workers.

Speaking of workers, I still can't believe how early they start inculcating the kids with information, though. Such is the pressure of the testing they do in the third grade that if the Leave No Child Behind folks had their way, the kids would all be able to work at McDonald's by the time they were eight. For us that timetable isn't quite right. But I'm continually amazed at the blistering speed with which they get new concepts. The testing drives that intense exposure to math and language.

I wonder if there would be a way to build into such a large entity -- the U.S. public school system -- some new adaptive approaches using specific developmental markers that indicate readiness for learning. Of course, all that has to be supported by nutrition that supports mental health and learning. Because you can't learn if you're not healthy; if you're chronically unhealthy, you're likely to be poor, and if you're not now, you may be soon if you're not very careful. And you have to have the money to provide a long enough school day that they have playtime, too.

How does a community support total health? Isn't it kind of like what parents are always urged to do in the magazines: provide enough nutrition to get through the time. Remove sources of stress (that's huge). Have available fruits and healthy snacks available in every way, not just the highly processed, simple-carbohydrate, oversalted and -sugared stuff that leaves you gasping for a Coke to jack your sugar levels back up to their precarious heights again an hour later. You rezone your neighborhoods to allow every neighborhood a bodega stocked with affordable, fresh veggies and fruits, breads, dairy, eggs, and other essentials. Oatmeal and granola alongside some of the more familiar options. It's a start.

So those are my priorities, again: public health, food, learning. It's all one thing. How do we the people take those things back from the corporations that are holding them hostage?

No comments: