Yesterday my husband and daughters attended the rally in Boston against the hate groups who had planned to meet on the Common. They went to speak against the divisive rhetoric of the president over the past week. They made their way into the city because they thought it was important to stand in solidarity with others who believe in this country’s democratic ideals. They went because America is great when we recognize that we can always do better; it is great when we take the lessons of our past and strive to build a society that includes all voices. They stood on the common, they joined in the occasional chant, they chatted with others about the good feeling that comes from seeing so many people stand up for love.
I was on the campus of American International College for orientation to my new graduate program. While I wanted to be with them, not least because I was worried for their safety, I felt like we were engaged in the same work to live the best American values.
I am a public school teacher and I firmly believe that public schools are crucial to a strong democracy. In our schools, we welcome everyone. Everyone. And once they are in our building, we do our best to give everyone what they need. That’s different from giving everyone the same thing. An oft stated value of our country is that we give equality of opportunity. We don’t, in practice, but that’s our goal. And equal opportunity means to genuinely support people with what they need to succeed. A simple example is that popular meme showing three kids looking over a fence, each supported by a different sized box to stand on because the kids are different heights. If we gave them the samne box to stand on, one of the kids would be able to see over the fence, but the other two would not. Why give a short person a short box? And why give a tall person a box at all if they can already see over the fence? That’s the difference between fair and equal.
The job of public schools is to find out what size box each student needs and help them secure it so they can see over that fence to their best future. I joined dozens of other teachers at the AIC orientation because we all want to learn to better do that job.
Because my family, along with 40,000 or so other New Englanders, gathered around the State House, my colleagues and I will have more success, and our students will have more success.
Activism comes in many forms. When I can, I join those demonstrators and hold signs and shout slogans and make my voice heard for peace and justice. Sometimes I post writing to my local newspaper or answer a journalist’s questions. I spend my money to support local business as much as I can, and educate myself about the environmental and social impacts of corporations before choosing what to buy. But my main activism comes from my employment. Everyday I am tasked with making visible the highest democratic ideals of equality of opportunity. I give Michael extra time to think through a basic Math problem while I give Rhonda a challenge above her grade level. I meet with Chavvy five times in a reading group each week while checking in with Juan only twice. I sit next to Junior during a test while watching over the others work alone at desks. I work hard to understand each student and find what they need. And then I bust my ass to get it for them.
Looking around the auditorium at my orientation, I was buoyed up by the number of people there, most of whom could quietly continue in their job without this added burden of coursework. While we are certainly responsible for continuing our learning, and the state holds us accountable for professional development hours, there are easier ways to fulfill those responsibilities than in taking on a complete graduate program. We were there to learn how to be better, how to fulfill this awesome responsibility of providing equality for our students.
My husband and daughters felt a similar elation looking around at the crowds on Boston Common. It was a beautiful summer day, one of the last before the routines of the school year take over. Everyone in that crowd could have been elsewhere – at the beach, at a family cookout, at work, visiting a grandmother, watching a movie, taking a hike. But they all chose to do the work necessary to keep our democracy strong.
I want to thank all of the people who work to keep America strong, especially the teachers and the demonstrators who took the time yesterday.