“Why aren’t they screaming?” — from Philip Larkin’s The Old Fools
Belleville gets a bad name from people who’ve never been there or who feel threatened by diversity. Immigrants and refugees from all over — Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Greece, Armenia, Poland, Russia, Auvergne and many French provinces — have settled there and worked side by side throughout the last two centuries. And they still come.
I joined them in the sixties, not speaking hardly a word of anyone’s language, to teach English as a Second Language. The cobblestone high streets were dense, even then, with vendors, children, neighborliness; women with head scarves, bearded Orthodox men, artists, squatters, students, teachers, vagrants — people stop in the street and markets there, unlike where I live at present, to pass the time of day. Time is not money there.
I taught for free. Gladly. I gleaned what I could not get from books. Books and the like. Like what most schools use as their point of departure for academic interaction, even when it’s an educational institution that prides itself on embracing Project Based Learning, very much in vogue today in academic circles. Academia… where youngsters are too easily expected to come full circle in the best of settings. Meaning, to acclimate to what’s out there in the so-called real world. To become a part of it all. To find a place within one of the various races being conducted over the Collective Precipice. And testing — even with the PBL model or its counterparts in gear — I fear is still the main way youth are judged worthy or unworthy to take the next step toward fitting in. Which is always entrance into the next step into The Trance.
Students should not be tested. Rather, students should test others. Their teachers. Their parents. Administrators and authority figures all along the spectrum. They should do a dance. A Grand Dance which allows them to move down a road rarely traveled. With steps that are unique, singularly attuned to their God-given spirit. A spirit that educational institutions — even those which boast that they honor the special qualities of each and every child — are not constituted to hold sacrosanct in the Big Picture of their lives.
Truth be told, as I write to you youngsters nationwide, worldwide are being prepared to fit into a future which will never unfold. The promises of charter schools, the expectations drummed up by public schools, what all home schooling parents I’ve encountered hold dear for their children’s future… are doomed to be dashed. And if I had to cite a single reason why, I’d note that it’s greatly because no one in any of those quarters is calling attention to our Collective Crises. Certainly, not a soul is running through the the hallways of private or public schools screaming, EMERGENCY!!!
They all operate at an arthritic snail’s pace facing up to the critical issues of our day in a way that If it ain’t today, it’ll be tomorrow. That’s not okay. And the progress that’s made each day for each and every child is primarily gauged in terms that are focused on the individual, in lieu of an appropriate nod to our current need for Sacred Solidarity.
No one’s giving a proper litmus test to the individuals and organizations orchestrating this entire Fiendish Farce. The focus on ME. Students must not only be allowed, they have to be enthusiastically encouraged to not only think outside of the box, but to nonviolently smash the educational box they’re in to bits. Encouraged to use their singular wits to replace what’s in place with something that’s not an Inhumane Disgrace.
Anyone paying attention must be able to see how children are not being encouraged to see our horrid momentum for what it is. Not having clarity provided vis-a-vis our complicity in abominations across the board. No, that’s verboten on both the blackboard and for the most expensive high tech gadget. In the generic climate-controlled educational setting, where parameters are drawn which won’t be a problem for the vast majority.
And the reason is that one is hard put to find even a single teacher who sees the sins of Silicon Valley and the grave downsides to all of its counterparts, like the fatal farts which all national military entities and our very lifestyles are smelling up the planet with, worse and worse by the day. If a well-meaning instructor does see some of this, they do not connect the necessary dots. If they did they’d see how the whole shebang couldn’t do its damage without the complicity of the educational realm as it is presently configured.
If they did they’d figure out a way to save the day. So that our youngsters and all of Mother Earth’s lovely creatures will have a future worth living for.
There’s too much talk in schools about “four decades from now.” What will or won’t be then, what is and isn’t possible to be brought about by that point. Well, it’s hard for me to think in terms of four decades when there aren’t four minutes to Midnight on the Doomsday Clock.
I think it’s time to scream out loud. One can do so without scaring the children. Certainly, young adults can handle the facts of life.
This article will probably doom my chances for securing a teaching post. But I have no regrets in submitting it for posting. Not any more than Edith Piaf — arguably, the most famous singer to emerge from Belleville — when she sang Non, Je ne regrette rien.
We should all sing the truth together.
Rachel Olivia O’Connor is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.