September 24, 2009

Bravery Personified

A message to my teachers:

Sometimes an event is so important that it must always be remembered for its critical impact on our lives. On September 25, 1957 nine black students entered an all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Though they had attempted to enter the front doors of the school since September 4, their walk through the front doors was not done until September 25.

What may seem as a "so what?" moment for us now was nothing less than an act of absolute bravery for those nine young students and for President Eisenhower. Could you imagine the feeling of walking into a school, being spit on, pelted with garbage, and threatened to be lynched... all because you wanted your fair shot at an education? I'm not sure many people I know could have dealt with that.

This historical event has me thinking about how very little the majority of our students understand about struggle, pressure, or life being difficult. If these nine students could endure twenty days of hell just to get into a school building, then why can't our students endure your reading demands - your performance or writing expectations - or our pushing them to do better with the gift of a free public education? The way I see it, our students have no excuses and little to complain about. In fact, a little more pressure and push would do them a lot of good.
"[Federal] Troops remained at Central High School throughout the school year, but still the black students were subjected to verbal and physical assaults from a faction of white students. Melba Patillo, one of the nine, had acid thrown in her eyes, and Elizabeth Eckford was pushed down a flight of stairs. The three male students in the group were subjected to more conventional beatings. Minnijean Brown was suspended after dumping a bowl of chili over the head of a taunting white student. She was later suspended for the rest of the year after continuing to fight back. The other eight students consistently turned the other cheek. On May 27, 1958, Ernest Green, the only senior in the group, became the first black to graduate from Central High School."
If we are looking to give students a reason why they should care about education or integrity, we can begin with telling the story of the Little Rock Nine. Their desire for an education cost them dearly. Can our (your) students pay a price that isn't so costly? If they tell you "this is too hard", tell them they don't know hardship until they have to nearly die for the chance to learn.

Keep pushing... keep demanding... that's what learning is.