Monday, January 26, 2009


He is straight out of the teacher’s textbook. He looks around the room, always, until I ask him by name to look at me while I address the class. We read a book together in the mornings, before school starts. So far he is willing to listen and fumble with the words that are so new to him in the written language.

I love this kid. He is rock solid character. He is so out of his league. At times, he looks defeated sitting there in his classroom, with his other, much younger classmates. When he is serious he looks sad, this must be why he is the clown. He speaks with a deep frog voice, already becoming a man. He gets right to work, calling me over, asking me how to spell this or that. He is writing about his mom, a 3 paragraph, 4th grade composition assignment. He is at a loss to define any sort of details about his mom’s childhood beyond the city where she was born. So he begins to describe his dad. He says, although he lives with her, he can recall nothing more. Not enough to create the proper, grammatically correct sentences I am requesting.

School, for kids left behind, is some form of cruel punishment. It is here that they are exposed. Their mastery of wit or conversation and charm do them little good as he attempts to write his paragraphs. Some say he is dyslexic. Or his mind has been forgotten by the society that gave birth to him. He tries so hard to read the context clues as we read finding new words with every other sentence. He gets it many times. These kids who show up day after day, they are soldiers. They risk mockery and shame, confusion and blame.

She became a stone with eyelashes wet as I, yet another in a long list of disappointed adults, insist that she can do a massive amount of advanced math problems, an improbability. She doesn’t even know how to protest this gross assignment, so she bows her face and goes somewhere in her mind to find pride in herself to sit there, still. They have so many lessons to teach us, the charming, witty, sweethearts forgotten in a system that draws the line every day of their lives.

There is great success. The world does not tenderly consider the gap in which these students must trounce. They grow, they are willing. They tire and test. There is a resting place for these warriors. There is no need to fail. We are there, we are here. The opportunities abound, if we see them. Easy for me to say, the examples were countless in my youth. Each way I turned, there was success. There might have been failures, but with those came obvious character growth and of course, the safety nets, invisible by those of us who know no other.

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