In a former life I was a speech and debate coach. I was working in a school that everyone was trying to get out of, including (some days) me. But like every “bad” school everywhere there were good kids who were looking for good things to do. So I did the best I could to get about 8 kids prepared, got the bussing in order, and showed up at 5 am to get the kids to a school on the other side of town.
None of us knew what we were doing, least of all me. We were walking into the front doors, headed to the cafeteria. One of my students stopped dead and looked around. With his head tipped back and his eyes wide, he inhaled like he had walked into a bakery. “Damn, Ms. Norman, someone must really care about these white kid.”
I didn’t even bother to tell him to hush. He was right. Someone did really care about those white kids, and it showed.
I was reminded of this story last week, when the Humans of New York asked a kid about the person he was most inspired by and he named his principal. She sounded pretty amazing and even I was inspired by her. I was reminded that the school to prison pipeline is a real thing and that me showing up every day to my job matters.
The story took off and pretty soon the people of Humans of New York started a campaign (one that might raise over a million dollars). I am super impressed with this campaign for this one reason. They asked the principal what would best serve the community, and then they followed her lead. I know that there are bad principals out there. Trust me, I have worked for them. But most people who work at high needs schools are remarkably passionate people. Most schools I have encountered are run by principals as passionate as Ms. Lopez, people who are dreaming big and wanting the best for their students. Even if I disagree with the vision, they have one. Teachers are teaching their brains out and still falling short because the resources just aren’t there.
I am glad that the kids of Bridges Academy are getting to go to Harvard. I am glad they have a summer program starting and a college scholarship fund. Those kids desperately need those things. I am grateful that people care enough to give these kids these opportunities.
But, I am also angry.
I am angry that it takes a professional picture and a clever story from a super hip Facebook page to get people to give to a really cool school initiative.
I am angry that the money was raised in 45 minutes, like it isn’t a big deal, like of course we can do that. I am angry that the Principal probably knew exactly what she wanted for years, and she couldn’t get it.
I am angry that the system is set up so that some kids get to go to schools where trips to Harvard aren’t a big deal, and some kids go to schools where the teacher is buying their own pre-k snacks.
I am angry because every single high-needs teacher and principal I have ever known has amazing ideas like this. They know that their kids come from places that people just get stuck in. They know that the kids need a bigger vision. They almost always have a dream project that they would love to have funded if some dude with a camera came by and made the world care.
And I am angry that the education of the under-privileged has become some pet project, some thing that people chip in for, rather than being something that we do as a society because it is the right thing to do. We are willing to give a certain school a certain dollar amount for a good idea because it makes us feel good. We are willing to be the heroes to a group of kids caught in the school to prison pipeline, but we aren’t willing to systematically fund the programs that would prevent the whole pipeline to begin with.
I am angry that we already know what works. We know that high risk kids needs summer programs and field trips that just get them out of the neighborhood, but most schools don’t get those things because… well, before this week I would have said that there isn’t enough to go around. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Those resources are sometimes there.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I am very glad that these kids are getting everything their principal says they need. But I am left wondering why in the world it takes a snazzy photo to get us all there. I love Humans of New York. I think they do good work. I am willing to bet that the schools in your neighborhood are full of humans too. Humans who are just as deserving of resources. The humans in your neighborhood school deserve the chance for someone to sit down with their community stakeholders (the principal is a good place to start along with some key teachers) and ask them, What do you need? and then find a way to do that.
I wish that story left me with as much hope as it has left some of you. Instead I am left with the words of my student. Damn, someone really must care about those Humans of New York kids.