Thursday, April 09, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Last night, I spent a few hours with a group of Christ-loving, people-serving, hope-infused folks in a small city about an hour from here. Together we watched a movie called Life of a King. A story of fear and violence, power and hope, determination and perseverance. It is a story about the lives of teenagers in Washington DC, a few cons and ex-cons, and what happens when one man stands up for what he himself never had.

After watching the movie, we talked about what stood out for us, what challenged us, what questions came up for us. We talked about how hopeless we sometimes feel when we think about and see the challenges that young people face. Especially young African Americans. So many of them live lives that are framed and defined by violence, poverty, neglect, drug use, abuse, addiction, and gang banging. When they have not seen others escape their neighborhoods, how can they hold on to hope?

Of course, the reality of despair and hopelessness is not true only in the inner city for young people of color. Addiction, abuse, violence, rape, alcoholism, eating disorders, anxiety, fear, neglect, and gang activity all happen in the suburbs and in rural areas as well. Suffering is impartial and does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, national origin, language, or religion. No group or individual is exempt from suffering.

Earlier this afternoon, I watched the second half of Waiting for "Superman." Our public school system is failing millions of children every year. Some statistics show that, although the United States is among the top five or ten countries in terms of how much we spend on education per student, we are ranked only in the top 20 or 25 in testing for reading, math, and science. If we are going to be global leaders in innovation, we need to do better than that. If we aren't going to make improving our school system a higher priority, then we forfeit our right to complain about jobs being outsourced and engineers, doctors, computer scientists, and others being imported from countries that have bypassed us in these areas.

Last night, as we talked about the film and the desperation that so many children feel in this country, as we talked about the fact that many children don't have birth certificates, children born here in the USA of American citizen parents fluent in English (so we aren't even talking about people for whom English is a second language), we listed several ways in which their progress is hampered, their prospects are curtailed, their hopes are dashed because they don't have that one piece of paper. How does one obtain a driver's license or any form of acceptable ID without a birth certificate? Or a passport? Or registered to vote? How does one apply for a job or join the military without a birth certificate? Actually, the pessimist in me is willing to be that one CAN join the military without a birth certificate. You can be trained to kill for your country but not trained to be a teacher or a lawyer in your country.

Even though we know about the ways in which some states are trying to make it harder for disadvantaged people to vote, last night we heard that the Social Security Administration is also making it harder for people to obtain Social Security cards. If you don't have ID, it's hard to get anything else. But if you don't have any other proof of who you are, it's hard to get ID. Deep sigh. Deeper sorrow.

Today as I watched the documentary about American's schools and the lottery that so many parents enter in the hopes of getting their children into better schools than their local districted ones, tears came to my eyes. Tears of sorrow for those parents and their beloved children. No matter where we are from or what we have accomplished, all parents want their children to be healthy and happy and well educated.

Unfortunately, there are a few abusive, drug and alcohol-addled parents who might not want that for their children, but blessedly, they are the exception rather than the rule.

I wept for those parents whose children were not chosen for their dream schools.
I wept for those children who understood how crucial it was for them to be accepted to those schools in order to have a better chance at a better future - and watched helplessly as their number wasn't called.
I wept for the thousands and thousands of parents and children who aren't even aware that they have options, that there are educational lotteries they can even apply to enter.
I wept for those who were accepted and pray that they were able to take advantage of the opportunity they had been afforded.

I also wept tears of gratitude for my children, for the ease with which we obtained birth certificates and passports and driver's licenses for them, for the gift it was to homeschool them, for the way in which they have both adapted to college life.

I am grateful for the privilege of being able to stay home, of not having to work outside our home since 1991, so that I could teach them and travel with them and cry with them and laugh with them and go for long walks with them and pray with them and read to them and cook with them and learn right along with them.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to work with, to walk alongside, to talk to, to laugh with, and also to cry with mothers and fathers as they guide their children through traditional and non-traditional education. Through opening schools. Through the choice to remove children from traditional school and begin to homeschool. Through the choice to return to school outside the home. Through college decisions. Through the undoing of college decisions. I am grateful for every text and email and tear and giggle and conversation and heart-wrenching decision.

I am grateful for the advocates, the teachers, the superintendents, the principals, the parents, the guidance counselors, bus drivers, the janitors, the cafeteria workers, the athletic directors, the coaches, the trainers, the tutors, the lawyers, the judges, the community organizers, and everyone else who is dedicated to the teaching, the coaching, the training, and the preparation of our children for their future and for the future of our world.

I am grateful for the many people and stories and movies and books and documentaries that have opened my eyes not only to the rich blessings of my own life, but far more than that, I have also been reminded that it is imperative that I too get involved in making a way for others to be blessed, to learn, to live, to laugh, and to love freely.

I am grateful for the invitations to join in on conversations like the one we had last night, for the "co-incidence" of seeing the film today about our failing schools, and how all of this ties to many of my own hopes and dreams about how I will live out the rest of my life.

I am grateful for the ways in which those stories have broken my heart wide open.

I am grateful that there is always, always, always cause for hope.

If you've got a couple of extra hours and a box of tissues nearby, I would recommend both of these films: Life of a King and Waiting for "Superman." And also this one, a film about how the educational system affects the lives of the highest achievers as well: Race to Nowhere.

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