Friday, September 27, 2013

Not Forgotten

 Today is the one-year  anniversary of the day I found out about the death of one of my favorite students who graduated four years ago. Kenna Egbune was a light in my life. He was a shining beacon of justice and was an advocate for people to treat others more kindly.

In my AP Lang class today we talked about the paradox of cartography: the idea that when maps are created, they are merely a representation of the place; they are not the place itself. In order to create a perfect depiction of a place, one must include each blade of grass, each brick, etc.

The students asked, "What about memories? Aren't memories kind of like that?" I had to think before I answered. I thought of Kenna. The last time we met was for dinner in August 2012  with some other students from his class. He challenged one of the black girls at the table who said she would only date white men. Kenna pointed out to her how she was not comfortable in her own skin, in her own black skin. His directness caught everyone off guard, most of all the friend sitting across from him.

It is this directness, his fearlessness in the face of social justice that I most remember about Kenna. But this memory is not the man. I can remember his essence, his ability to fight for  GLBTQ rights, for people of color, his passion for justice, but this is not the man he was. This is merely the essence of this person who touched me so deeply.

The paradox though, sitting at the table that evening is that this memory, this point in time, will live forever through the people who were sitting with him that night. Kenna made all of us think. Kenna made all of us stop our lives in that moment and  wonder what it might be like if we were all happy in our own skin, what the world might be like.

This was the essence of who Kenna Egbune was. He changed me, and for that I am grateful.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Flood

Flood Damage
Last week in Colorado there was a huge storm that washed away roads and houses and the artifacts of peoples' lives in the course of just a few days. It was monumental and truly a force of nature to be reckoned with. It was shocking to watch. While I have lived in Colorado most of my life, I have never seen anything quite like this disaster that unfolded while I sat helplessly in the comfort of my high-rise condo.

There was one time the Big Thompson up north of Denver flooded all the way from the Continental Divide to Interstate 25 just outside of Longmont. But this flood was mostly due to a dam that broke in Rocky Mountain National Park. Those of us who remember this flood mostly remember it as a piece of Colorado legend, part of the mythology of our state. But this flood was different. This flood hit the entire Front Range north of Denver. While the damage was the worst in the canyons west of Boulder, it was widespread and continued to ooze and grow through the course of last weekend. The water created an oozing rushing brown wave of devastation and destruction in its path.

It washed everything away.

While I definitely don't want to minimize the sense of destruction the victims of this torrent face, the rebuilding effort and the years of memories lost, I would like us to take some time to think about floods in different forms.

Boulder's Four-Mile Canyon
The flood I am thinking about is the one billed as education reform. The flood of information, things to do, and testing in the name of making our education system stronger. Floods wash away everything, the good and the bad. This reform is beginning to do just that: wash away the good teaching along with the bad. Those of us who are committed to creating classrooms of inquiry and exploration are lumped in with those teachers who "drill and kill"- in the eyes of the media we are all the same: we teach for the summer vacation.

Yes. Let's wash this notion away. Let's begin to rebuild in the face of the disaster that has been the reform movement thus far. Let's rebuild a system that works for all kids. Let's rebuild a system for all people who come to the teaching profession wanting to help foster passion towards learning in kids.

Like the Colorado Floods, it will take time. And if we want it done right, we will work together.