Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Dying of the Light

Yesterday, on the last day of school before the Winter break, a high school student in Howard County was threatened and harassed for being Jewish. Yet again our schools cease to be a safe place for learning and growing and become the site of danger and humiliation. These are not merely the warning signs of bad things to come. These are, in themselves, the bad things. 

At this time of year when people of many faiths are lighting candles and looking for the light, we are seeing examples of profound darkness amongst our children. 

John Krownapple, HCPSS Director of Cultural Proficiency, has been working in our high schools this fall as a part of an initiative to amplify student voice. As he mentions in this tweet:

Students who believe their voice matters are 7x more likely to be academically motivated. Let's take action on what we're hearing from them.

Well, what are we hearing from them? Well, here is some of what Mr. Krownapple has been hearing:

Winter break reflection: how did we get here--many students saying they're not forming real relationships across race, class, & culture in school. Is it better or worse than the 90s? Are classrooms more or less integrated than then? If schools/classrooms are integrated, how inclusive are they? Are processes like group work and quality of relationships across differences collateral damage of standards movement and era of accountability? Thoughts and questions about public schools, diversity, inclusion, democracy, our past, and our future as we are wrapping up this calendar year. 

Our educational system has narrowed its push to grades and test scores. This has a price. You reap what you sow.

All of these incidents of hate and racism fly in the face of what many think of as the spirit of Columbia. (This is not to say they don't bother people in the rest of Howard County, but Columbia does have a mission of diversity and inclusion at its roots in a rather Public way.) I thought about Columbia, the planned community, the almost-utopian community, as I read this article by Katie V. Jones in the Howard County Times.

Exhibit tells the story of Jewish settlement 'Yazoor'

Her article recounts the fruition of research by the Howard County Historical Society into an early Jewish settlement in Ellicott City. Historian Dustin Linz 

learned that in the early 1900s, a small group of Russian Jewish immigrants settled along the Patapsco River in Howard County in a settlement they called Yazoor. The group's goal was to be self-sufficient by growing their own food and speaking only Yiddish. It lasted until 1935.
"The immigrants were not skilled at agriculture work and they had to hire farmers, who didn't speak Yiddish," Linz said. "The subsequent generations ... had no interest in carrying on the dreams of their parents. I didn't know it existed."
A sentence leaps out at me here.

The subsequent generations had no interest in carrying on the dreams of their parents.

The dream of Columbia, or the mission of One Howard, will someday be merely a file folder with some dusty newspaper clippings if our children have no interest in carrying out our dreams. What are we doing to enable our young people to be empowered to connect with those dreams? How are we making sure they can add their voices to that message?

We have the opportunity to have some serious conversations about this with our kids over whatever holidays we celebrate. Don't let that opportunity slip away.

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