Thursday, March 21, 2013

Challenging Our Assumptions

As a newlywed, I adored my food processor. Back then I cooked everything from scratch and it was one of the wedding presents that got frequent use. So, I tried to talk my mother into getting one. She was still chopping everything in a wooden chopping bowl. Her resistance amazed me.

"How do you make sure that the plastic pusher-thing doesn't get sliced off by the blades?" She asked, doubtfully.

"It doesn't! Trust me! And besides, do you think they could successfully market something that got sliced up as soon as you used it?"  I wasn't very patient with her line of thinking.

She got a food processor. But she never really used it. It sat on the kitchen counter looking sparkly and new. And she continued to use her wooden chopping bowl.

I won the battle, but I lost the war.

In Columbia we are proud of recalling that our community was founded with racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in mind.  But on days when things go horribly wrong, our assumptions about how Columbia is supposed to be are challenged. I was deeply distressed to read the story of the recent arrests of four Oakland Mills teens. But I was angrier to read many of the online responses. As ugly as the description of events sounds in the news articles, the comments were uglier.

We may believe that people who live in Columbia are here because they share the founders' beliefs in integration, equality, and cultural diversity, but how could anyone possibly guarantee that this is true? There is no test one must pass to live here, no education that one must complete. Time passes, life goes on, the world changes.

Who have we become?

Several years go I attended a beer summit event hosted by twentyfivefortyfive on issues on race. Our host, Candace Dodson Reed, chose Frank Eastham as the facilitator for the evening. I came away with a realization that I knew very little about how my own race colors my views, or how our community really deals with issues of race. I learned that it is a good thing to acknowledge that you don't know everything, to be willing to say, "I am at the beginning."

The most important knowledge I gained from that evening was how perfectly suited Frank Eastham is to be the principal at Oakland Mills High School. His ability to share insight, to help us look at the truth, to challenge us to move out of our comfort zones are all crucial skills in addressing the needs of our high school students. In Frank Eastham they have mentor, guide, and advocate.

It is all to easy for us to stay in our own little bubbles of how the world works, and complain that others are messing things up. Like my mother and I years go, we have a failure to communicate. She refused to venture out of her comfort zone. I refused to put myself in her shoes.

When that happens, nothing changes.

The schools in Oakland Mills, and schools everywhere, are on the front lines of What's Happening Now. We can shrug our shoulders, or pass judgement. Or we can stand with them and admit that we don't know everything, but we are willing to be at the beginning.

Let's get to work.


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