At the beginning of this semester, I went into a classroom without the intentions of it having any impact of my life. What I did not know was that this course held not only a vision for the future but also answers to my past. Growing up, I was influenced by a society that was inhabited almost entirely by whites. For that reason only, I have been completely unaware of any bias or unfair treatment to minority and female students. Because of this upbringing, I found many incidences discussed in class quite unbelievable. However, my views on our society and the educational system have been broadened which leads me to believe that the teachers of the future now have the key to a fair, unbias education for each student that enters the school.
I was also fortunate this semester to engage in mentoring a young African-American student named James. Although this assignment was geared toward working with a student from a different culture in order to examine the differences in our lives as well as our values, I think that it was very fortunate for not only my experience but also for the student?s experience that we shared so many of the same hurdles growing up. The death of a sibling as well as the experience at multiple schools as ?the new student? are just a few of the ways in which James and I were quite similar. As many people know, dealing with issues like this can be quite hazardous to how a young child develops into a functioning adult. Because James and I are linked based on our past, we were able to share with each other more honestly than we have before. With that, we grew from one another?s experiences and found the answers to our past with and through each other.
As I said before, the course discussions and lectures that I experienced had a dynamic impact on my personal beliefs and values. Honestly, I hardly ever had an ounce of belief in the books we read and discussed or even the topics brought up for lecture. I would walk out of the classroom each day either upset at the way people in the class viewed the educational system or the way that they portrayed the minority students being treated. I realize now that I was stubborn to the fact that there are societies other than the one I grew up in tat have it far worse than I have ever seen or even imagined. The way that I took the lectures was as a classroom made almost entirely of minority students blaming all of the problems concerning the educational system on the upper middle class. Having grown up in an upper middle class household and neighborhood I felt defensive yet took it upon myself not to verbalize my thoughts, being very concerned that one might take my comment not as defense but as a prejudice remark.
During class discussion I was able to listen to how the other students reflected on racial injustices. When I first listened to what others had to say, I can remember thinking how lucky I was that I did not live as a minority in our society. I have never had to live day to day waking up scared of what might happen to me simply because of my skin color or the things my family takes pride in. However, simply because I was raised among people who were all the same as me and had the same beliefs does not mean that it was always a good thing. In fact, I see a lot of my up bringing completely different now. For example, I was always among people who did not have to watch what they said in effort to avoid offending someone. So, when a racial comment was said among my peers or even my family, I never thought twice about it. I also made comments of my own. I never had to worry about a minority being next to me or within hearing distance so I never considered the consequences of throwing around racial comments.
The class time I have spent with everyone has gotten me to realize that it does not matter if people do not take offense to what you are saying. I have begun to think about the scope of the entire situation and now take into consideration the idea of ?is what I am about to say able to offend any one that could accidently over hear my conversation??. I began to think about that idea and implement it into my thoughts every day and I am ashamed to say that I have stopped myself from saying my initial intent based on that idea. The fact that I am twenty years old and just now figuring out what is and is not politically correct to state in public is quite appauling to me. Twenty years of good parenting and a supportive environment to grow up happy in is what all families would like to provide for their loved ones but I have began to realize that while I was given those things there was one important piece missing. This one piece is what many people miss in their up bringing which is why there are still such hostile racists in our nation.
My parents grew up in Louisiana through the sixties and the seventies when the state was dominated by African-Americans. Both coming from very conservative southern families, they found themselves looking down on any one else who did not have the money that their families had. At that time, with money came respect and leadership. My mother and father were both introduced to African-Americans in their schools while in middle school. Their parents were very racist and verbally attacked the idea of having African-Americans in their schools. My father adopted the beliefs of his family and did not like the idea either. My mother, however, tried to be open minded about the entire situation while at the same time watching her boyfriend (my father) verbally and physically abuse those African-Americans. Unfortunately, one day my mother was frightened so horribly that she drifted to the side of her family and soon-to-be in-laws. My mother?s school, Green Acres Middle School, had been integrated for about five months when a group of African-American girls began to verbally abuse the group of popular white girls. My mother was included in this group and was picked on more simply because her family was known for having money. The verbal abuse continued for days until my mother finally got fed up and spoke back to them telling the girls to leave them alone. Apparently, that really upset the group of African-American girls to the point that they began to get physical. Their mentality was that they were not about to be pushed around by a spoiled white girl like their ancestors had been in the past. So, one Friday afternoon the group of African-American girls shoved my mother into the bathroom and pinned her against the wall. One proceeded to lift a small pocket knife out of her back-pack and hold it against my mother?s throat. They threatened her violently and held the knife so close to her neck that my mother thought they cut her multiple times. The girls did not actually cut her but they did leave marks on and around her neck. When they left the bathroom, my mother sat there crying and in such shock that something like that could have happened to her. My father, in an attempt to ?put those niggers in their place?, rounded up many of his friends, the popular football players and jocks, and went after the group of African-American boys who claimed to be the boyfriends of the girls that did that to my mother. The physical nature of that day is one of great pride for my father because he claims that he was defending my mother?s honor. However, it is a day of horrible memories for my mother because she only remembers the hatred in those girls? eyes as they held her against that wall.
As I grew up, I only heard that story and many quite similar from my father about how the African-Americans came in and tormented the whites. Of course, in school I was taught about the segregation and the hard times that the African-Americans went through but none of those lectures about what happened to them could make up for what my mother went through. I have always been very firm in the belief that those girls had no reason to hold my mother against the wall even if she would have looked them all in the eye and called them ?niggers?. Now, I know that might come off sounding a bit racist but I can assure you that it is not. If a group of white girls would have held a black girl to the wall in a bathroom with a knife to her neck simply because she called them ?honkies? or anything to that extent, I would not accept that as right either. Color is not an issue to me in these types of situations. It is the simple act of hatred that gets to me. So, I feel that the stories told to me about the African-Americans and their violent acts against my parents and their society is a thought that still lingers in my mind when the issue of racism comes up. I have many opinions that many feel are backwards. For instance, many African-Americans that I come in contact with that choose to talk with me about racial issues find that it s the ?white? person that is holding them back. There is so much tension between whites and African-Americans today and it is unnecessary. I can admit that there are still whites with backward views that the blacks are less people than them but there are also those blacks who feel that every white person is to blame for their short comings as citizens. So, there is a very sketchy issue at hand in my mind. I can not understand why some African-Americans can still blame white people for what happened to their ancestors and I can not understand why some white people can still share the same views of their ancestors and hate a human simply because of their skin color.
This belief of mine is something that I had to find for myself. Although racial issues were never a part of our every day conversations, when it was talked about, all that I heard were negative acts done by the blacks to the whites. I know now that I wasn?t told the whole story about what happened in their school but I overcame my parents? guidance to continue their thinking through me. This is why I feel that our class discussions have helped me to see both sides of the story and make my own beliefs for my life.
I suppose that I was lucky in a many aspects of my life. I always went to the best of schools and I can not remember having any bias or racist teacher. That could be for many reasons though. I have wondered throughout the semester whether or not acts of racism really did take place in my classroom. Although I have read about racial issues and have heard the discussions within our classroom, I honestly do not feel that I can relate to that occurring in any of my classrooms. Then again, I am very na?ve and if it did occur, I hardly noticed it at all. I lived in a part of town where whites were dominating. In fact, I can only remember three or four black families living in our neighborhood and they all had beautiful, enormous houses and played with the white children as if there were no differences. Although I can not remember racial injustices within the classroom, I do remember one incident that has always affected the way I treat African-Americans when I meet them or simply spend time with them. It was a summer afternoon and all of the children in the neighborhood were playing in a park across the street from our homes. There were about seven white children and one black child. We were all playing together very calmly when a child that we did not recognize walked to the park and started playing with us as if we knew him. We continued to play until lunch time came and then we all went to our homes to eat, expecting to meet again soon after. So, after lunch I went back to the park and began to play with the one black child and two other white children that were already back. A little while later the other children crossed the street and among them was the ?new boy?. When they reached the park, the new boy stopped and said that he would not touch the sad again until the black boy got out of it. We all seemed shocked and looked to the black boy to see what he was going to do. He did nothing but stand there looking at this new guy that was judging him based on his skin color. The new boy continued to lash out racial comments until the black boy ?s eyes began to water. This continued for what seemed like hours in my mind and all I could do was look at the black boy and see his tears fall because of hateful comments by another boy. Finally, the black boy got up and was going to walk home when I went to catch up with him. When I finally matched his pace and walked beside him as if he were my equal, he looked at me and the look I received still runs through my mind as if it happened yesterday. Here was a child that wanted to spend his day playing at the park with his friends and was forced out because of one child calling him names he had no right to call him.
I knew that this child?s parents both worked and never came home until the sun went down so I invited him over to my house to play basketball. The whole afternoon we played basketball and video games at my house until his parents came home. Every day after that he would come over and play with me and my big sister and other children began to come over when they saw us playing on our court. Although I was only six years old, I knew that this child was discriminated against because of his skin color and I didn?t care that he was black. He was safe and free of all discrimination when he was at my house. I can not remember seeing him at the park any time after that incident took place. Looking back, I can see how devastating one person?s actions can be for another.
Before I started this semester in our ALD class, I hardly ever thought about that incident but because of the issues we talked about, I had many days when this boy?s face was all I could think about. I am sad that this happened to the boy but I feel that this memory is what opened my eyes to the realization that these things really do happen.
I know that I do not touch much on the aspect of teachers and their relations with the children during our class discussions. This is simply because I have no desire to teach or even work with children. I do intend on having children of my own however and I enjoyed taking the time to listen to the future teachers in our classroom discuss how they will handle the situations. If all teachers in our society would hold the same beliefs that the students in our classroom hold then I would have no problems or worries sending my children to school to be educated. However, there will always be a thought in my mind that my children might be taught racial and bias views by the actions of their teachers.
I have never been witness to any racial mistreatment to students throughout my own experiences but I have, however, been witness to the mistreatment to students based on the gender. When reading Failing At Fairness I had many memories of high school when both males and females were discriminated against because of their genders. The book that we read by Myra and David Sadker was based more around the ways that girls were mistreated in the schools but there was one chapter that did deal with the mistreatment of the boys. I can remember several instances during my sophomore year in high school when the boys would be picked on by the teacher. Josh Taylor was a boy in my tenth grade English class and we were very good friends. In fact, we dated at one point and one day we walked into class together about five minutes late and our teacher, Mrs. Lightfoot, looked at me as I made my way to my seat and then fixed her eyes on Josh who was not a trouble maker at all. As he made his way to the last open desk in the classroom Mrs. Lightfoot asked him why he was late. Of course Josh could not think of any good reason why he was late so he stated that we were caught up in a conversation with our friends in the hallway. Our teacher did not like that excuse very much so she proceeded to tell him to stay after class. Throughout the class, Josh was the first to be called on for any question and he only knew the answer to one of them. Mrs. Lightfoot?s intentions were not to challenge him intellectually but to make him look like a fool in the classroom in front of his peers. So, Josh stayed after class like he was told and Mrs. Lightfoot made him stay there until the next class bell rang and then he was allowed to go. The thing that got to me was not that he was picking on Josh, even though that did get to me. It was odd to me that she did not say a word to me about being late. I can honestly say that my best friend Erin always walked into lass with me late and a word was never spoken to us about being late. Mrs. Lightfoot always smiled and treated us like we were there early with our homework out ready to go over it. That was hardly the case and I could never understand why she was so harsh on the boys et so lenient with the girls.
Now, four years later, my brother is in her English class and he told me stories about how she is so hateful to him and his friends who are all male. I told my brother, Matthew, to tell her that he is my little brother and see what kind of response she gets. So, thinking that if he told her that he was the brother of a student she liked a lot she would treat him with a little more respect, he did it only to get a smile from her and then the same mean treatment he had been getting before. I was given well deserved A?s in that classroom and my brother is given B?s and C?s in that classroom that I feel are not well deserved. I do not feel that her grades reflect the progress that the student makes with the course material. I do, however, feel that her grades are a direct reflection on how she judges the student based on gender and how much she likes them that given day. Although that is just my personal opinion, I know that many people share that same opinion with me and there are many teachers in our society that act in the same way that Mrs. Lightfoot does. Maybe this is an unintentional behavior that she possesses or maybe it is simply brought about because she was mistreated by men when she was in school. I can not say why she acts like this towards her students but I can say tat it is a bias that she possesses and s very unhealthy for the students to be subjected to.
The most interesting book that I read while in class (besides for the Heartland Chronicles J) was Failing At Fairness. The only connection I have with this book is that I always wondered in History classes where the women were and what role they played in the founding of our nation or simply the founding of anything at all. Although there are many wonderful history stories to be told about women and their contributions to our nation, many history teachers choose the stories about the men thinking that their contributions are of greater importance. To me, that is degrading to all women and there is no way that a young girl can develop the elf esteem she needs to stand tall next to the boys in her class if all she is learning is that men made all the contributions and the women did their laundry. My mother taught me the facts on what women did and I feel that is the reason why I have grown to be a strong woman when faced with men claiming to be more dominant. Girls should not be degraded simply because their women ancestors were over powered by their husbands and forced to do meaningless jobs.
Throughout this semester, because of our ALD class, I have developed views that I was not even aware were worthy of beliefs. I was very neutral in most situations and now I am very strong in my newly found morals. However, I do not feel that this was the best thing that I got out of our course. I was also able to engage in a mentoring program. I worked with a young African-American boy named James who shared many of the same experiences I did when I was his age. Many of the experiences that we have gone through could be quite devastating and have a profound impact on the rest of a young child?s life. This is why I am very confident and happy in the fact that I was able to help him when he needed someone and when no one could understand the impact that his experiences had on his life.
Our meetings started out very casual. I was able to mentor in a classroom where the teacher is a friend of our family and for that reason I had a lot of leeway in what I was able to do with James. At the beginning, the teacher informed me that she picked James as my student because we had so many things in common and we could help each other deal with issues in our lives. At that time, I was curious to know what she was talking about but that was all the information that she would give me. My initial thought was ?how could I possibly have anything in common with a nine-year old African-American boy??.
So, I met with James at least one time every week and we would work on mathematics for thirty minute sessions. He never had a problem with the mathematics problems so I knew that I was dealing with a very bright young man. After our thirty minute sessions of math, we would move into one of the little ?cubbies? in the room and we would just talk about life and things that were going on in our families. When we first started, nothing I would consider major was brought up. He mostly asked questions about college and what things were like playing sports in college. After a few sessions of small talk, we began to dive into the more important issues. He told me that he did not have many friends and that hr was picked on a lot because he was the ?new boy?. Of course, the first thing that popped into my head at that time was the face of that little boy that was picked on in the park when I was younger. So, I asked him how long he had been at the school and he began to jump into this story about how he moved here to Austin because his father had been transferred and since that move he had been to two elementary schools so he never had enough time to make new friends. From that moment, I knew that we were similar in that way.
I can remember my childhood with very little friends, except for the ones I had within my sports organizations. I went to three elementary schools, four middle schools and one high school (luckily). Now, I never understood why we moved so much but I always liked the attention that a new student got from the teacher. Unfortunately, with that came trying t gain the acceptance of your peers. That was probably the most difficult part of my childhood.
Everyone says that real estate is a great investment. No one took that to heart like my mother. She would buy a house, move us in and spend one year fixing it up to twice the value she bought it for and sell it to some family that was looking in that area. Now, I loved living in all those nice houses and then moving to one tat was twice as nice as the previous but it was so hard when that first Monday came and I had to walk into that classroom full of all those unfamiliar faces looking at me and judging me.
When James would talk to me he would tell me about being picked on because he was the new guy and then he would tell me the names they would call him. It was a very familiar feeling when he looked at me with those sad eyes. I chose to not let those comments get to me when I was younger because I was so used to it but I remembered that feeling so vividly when he would look at me with his sad eyes and told me how they would pick on him. It was such a horrible feeling that I knew he felt. So, we would sit there and talk about everything that happened and what he did to get the children to like him. I told him what I used to that always worked for me. Luckily, he is a very athletic child who runs very fast and can hit a baseball much better than I ever could at that age.
I let him know that on the first day I would always wait for recess and the daily physical education class where kick ball and soccer were the highlights. Of course being picked last is the all too common trend for the new student and I expected everyone in that class to imagine me tripping and falling over the ball s they would be surprised to see me hit the game winning grand slam or score the winning goal at crunch time. It never failed! Every day after that I would be one of the two students chosen to pick the teams. James told me that he was always so nervous so he was the stereotypical new kid tat tripped and fell over the ball. I was so impressed with his mentality though. The way he got the students to like him was, in his opinion, by his skills in the classroom. Students would ask him questions about assignments and he would get to know them and begin playing with them at recess and after school. I thought this child was brilliant. He got his friends by working hard in class and helping others study. That is a quality that is so awesome for a nine-year old to possess.
I noticed that when James would talk about being picked on, he would tell me that his brother used to be there to stand up for him but he wasn?t there to do it anymore. Of course, I didn?t want to push him to tell me anything that he wasn?t comfortable with so he would continue in telling me stories about what he did at recess and what he was going to do for Thanksgiving. Then one day it came. The answer to what I had been asking him in my head so many times was finally said out loud. Ever since the day he told me that his brother was not there to stand up for him I had been wondering.
Out of nowhere James started talking about his brother and how they used to play all the time and he never worried about making friends before because he knew that his big brother would be there to play and make him smile when he got home. So, I got up the nerve to ask him where his brother was and the answer was exactly what I expected it to be. Ames looked at me and I immediately began to see the tears in his eyes build up until the finally poured over his little eye lids. Riding bikes one day, they were rushing home so they could play their Nintendo before they had to eat dinner with the family. James did not go into great detail about the whole situation but I could guess what happened next. He sat there crying so hard and barely being able to make the words out that his brother was hit by a car just down the street from his house. So, right then I felt this sudden sense of numbness take over every part of my body. I started to feel my eyes water and at that moment I realized why the teacher had gotten me to work with James.
My mind drifted back to the worst day of my young life. It was Mother?s Day (of all days) and my sister and I were riding our bikes to the store to buy our mom some candy since we had very little money in our piggy banks due to those selfish needs. On our way home from the store, we were both dreading that climb up the hill just before our house. At the foot of the hill she got in front of me since she was older and stronger than me and could get up the hill with less ease. So, as soon as we got to the foot of the hill I heard the sound that runs through my head every night before I go to sleep. It is hard to describe the sound but it was the sound that you hear when you switch lanes in the road and your tires run over the little white pebbles that sketch out the lanes. The next thing I knew, my sister was fifty yards away from me and her bike was smashed so unrecognizably that all I recognized was the little pink ribbon coming off of the steering wheel handles. A woman was driving up the hill in the opposite direction and was trying to pick something up off of the floor board when she drifted to the shoulder on the opposite side. The next thing I knew, my sister was lying on the ground motionless with the most dazed look I have ever seen and a constant mumble coming out of her mouth. It took the ambulances less than five minutes to get there and next thing I knew, my mom was by my side crying and screaming and doing all she could to not beat the hell out of the driver who was also standing there crying and trying to control her breathing. My neighbor drove me home and I waited impatiently by the phone for anyone to call and tell me she was alright. So, the phone call came about three hours later and my aunt called to make sure I was there and I was okay. I immediately asked how my sister was and the only response I got was that she was okay. So, I went on with the evening waiting for the moment my sister would walk in the door with crutches and a cast or something to that extent. Finally, the door opened and my aunt came in saying that she was going to put me in bed and stay with me for a little while. I asked again about my sister and she told me that she would not be coming home. So confused, I asked why she wouldn?t come home and the response I received was full of such an empty, sad look when my aunt looked at me and told me that se had died an hour before.
Of course, I had heard the word death before but I had no clue that it brought with it such cold, empty feelings that last for hours at a time that are broken for only a few seconds at a time when thinking about the times spent with the one who was gone. My sister was gone and there was nothing I could do about it except sit and try to have it make sense in my head. So, years go by and the sad times disappear and it is almost inevitable that you hardly ever think about it willingly just because it hurts too much to think about how different your life might be if the one person you loved more than anyone else hadn?t died. I know that I did not take the healthy approach to dealing with the death of my sister and it has had horrible effects on my life since then.
James telling me his story took such guts so I knew I needed him to trust that I had experienced something quite similar in my life so I told him about the death of my sister, not in elaborate detail of course. He looked shocked and continued by saying that he had never met anyone who had gone through the same experience. I knew that I would need to talk to him about how to deal with the emotions he would be feeling or else he would go through what I went through, living twelve years full of days with smiles and nights in bed with eyes full of tears. James didn?t need to go through that and I could be the one to help him smile about his brother?s memory instead of feeling regret and pain. So, every session we would talk about all these wonderful stories about his brother and what he did that was so great and then I would tell an awesome story about my sister and what she would do that was so great. Sometimes we cried and sometimes we laughed but we always left the sessions feeling better about our siblings. I know that this little boy was helping me deal with issues I had never dealt with before and ignored so much that it began to eat at me every day for over a decade. James was learning how to cherish the time spent with his brother and hold his memories close to him instead of trying his hardest not to think about them. I felt myself getting closer to this child and I knew that he understood me. It is one thing to listen to someone try and tell you how they think you should deal with your problems but it is quite another to see the loss in someone else?s eyes and have them express to you the best way to deal with it. So, from James I learned more than I expected. He made me realize so many things that I should have a long time ago. Along the way, we both grew and the answers to my past were answered in the best way possible. I was finally able to accept that my sister was gone but that while she was here, she influenced my life so dramatically and her death helped me to reach out to a young boy in need of advice on how to deal with something that could have devastating effects on his life if no one would have been able to relate to him.
This class has done so many things for me and has helped me grow in so many areas. I now understand how important it is t teach young children that skin color does not matter and should not be criteria on judging people. Then again, the only criteria for judging people should be the way that they treat you. I was also able to help a young boy in need and give him the guidance that he was lacking in a time when t was necessary. In doing that, I learned to deal with my sister?s death but to remember her life and not dwell on the time she has been dead. I now go to bed smiling, knowing that we have figured out the key to our future and I have found the answers to my past. Before this semester even began, I don?t even know if I was looking for these things but I found them, whether by accident or by dumb luck, and I am so happy with the direction my life is going now. I can begin to live for my future and not be stuck in my past. Because of this class, one other boy named James can do the same.