It Was Free for Me, But You Have to Pay

Marco Rubio thinks immigrants should come to the country the “right way,” like his parents who fled Cuba. However, Cubans get free green cards but Mexican immigrants get sent back. Apparently the “right way” doesn’t apply to a child from Juarez, whose family fled due to the drug wars.

Barack Obama thinks I should have to pay for health care even when it will bankrupt my family. Never mind the fact that he is wealthy and the government still pays for his family’s health care. He will never have a child break a leg and wonder if it’s best to re-set it and miss a mortgage payment or take the child to urgent care. Apparently “universal health care” is paid for on the back of working class families rather than the shared taxation of an entire nation.

Mitt Romney thinks we should pay for our college education and our health care and pull ourselves up by the proverbial boot straps, but in his case, he gets the nifty trust fund boots and servants who will pull the straps up for him. Apparently hard work and determination are for those whose fathers weren’t CEOs of car companies and governors with tons of connections.

I mention this, because I teach immigrant students who are told with a condescending political tone that they need to do things “the right way.” They work hard. They believe the myth. And then they are told, when it doesn’t work out for them that they simply didn’t work hard enough. It will be their fault they don’t have papers. It will be their fault they don’t have health care. It will be their fault they didn’t start multi-million dollar business. 

Because, ultimately, “you should work hard and quit asking for a handout” applies to those in poverty but not to those who make the laws.

#39: Anthorpomorphism

We have a lizard in our class named Mr. Pancho.  He doesn’t do much, really.  Just sits and eats a cricket each day and turns colors depending on his location.  However, the students study him closely, pointing out when he is scaling a wall or begging to watch when he catches a cricket.

It’s odd to me, considering the fact that we rarely give that type of emphasis to our own human experience.  When was the last time we lined up in front of Home Town Buffet to watch people eat?  When was the last time we watched someone in camo blend into a tree?

He has morphed into more than simply a class pet.  He now has his own blog and posts to our class blog.  One group has decided he should run for Congress, reasoning that he’s already green so he might as well be part of the Green Party.  Besides, the Constitution doesn’t stipulate “human.”  Students now write their anonymous blog posts as Mr. Pancho Posts.

They have given him human characteristics.  Sometimes they think he is sad or grumpy or bored or sleepy.  Who knows?  Perhaps they are right.  However, every once in awhile I catch them talking to him.

“I know what it’s like to try and blend in.”

Another student said, “Rough night.  Me too.”

This doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile it occurs with the first student in or the last student out.  Someone makes a comment to Mr. Pancho about everyone watching or blending in or having to sit still.  It’s become one of my favorite parts of this school year – a little unexpected anthropomorphism.

#38: Murals and Metaphors

“The mural looks kind of dark,” I tell my students.  They want it urban, though, which means the buildings and the shadows have a colder look to it.

“It looks complicated.  Busy or something,” a girl adds.

“Maybe that’s how reading is,” a boy adds.  ”Maybe reading isn’t an easy task.  Just think about it.”

So we do.

I’m not shocked by this comment, either.  Earlier in the day, we watched the video of the slam poem “I Can’t Read.”  It led to some great discussions about identity and roles.  The students connected it to the questions of freedom from the American Revolution and the values of social compliance we had seen in the folktale “The Oxcart.”  A few brought up The Giver and a student from the “low” group mentioned survival in The Hatchet.

Reading is complicated.

For some of them, it’s automatic.  The fluency, the vocabulary, the predicting and the visualizing, the questioning and the inferences – those are natural.  Then the journey turns daunting again, as they realize that literature is more than comprehension; that it’s uncomfortable.

For others, the journey of reading to be just that  – a daunting journey. Each skill seems confusing and bizarre and foreign.  I watch them tackle words and wrestle with confusion.  I watch them cower in fear that they won’t get in time for high school or college or life.

One of the reasons I love painting murals with my students is that it provides a metaphor that helps them think through difficult concepts.  In this case, it’s about the struggle to read.

#37: Extremes

As we return from lunch, I check my e-mail and notice a Lego figure of Stephen Hawking.  If that’s not geeky enough, he writes out, “What are two black halves called: Black Wholes.”  The pun makes me cringe, but the Steven Hawking figure is right up my ally.

Minutes later, a student calls me over.  “This makes me sad,” he says as he points at a photograph from 1927.

“Why’s that?”

“It just hit me that she’s probably dead, right?  I mean, if she’s like twenty in this picture, then she’s probably about a hundred right now. So, she’s gone.  Forever.”

I consider saying something, but then he continues, “I always imagine dead people as different, I don’t know.  I just . . . I just don’t think of them as real and alive and smiling.”

“So, how do you typically think of them?”

“Unless they’re famous, I think of them as those plaques they put on the ground.  Yeah, that’s it.  Just graves.”

A few hours later, at the end of class, the same student asks if he can dance.  So, with five minutes left in the class period, he turns on a techno version of “Barbie Girl” and break dances to it. Totally old-school break-dancing, too.

One of the reasons I love 8th grade is the almost extreme shifts from laughter to intellectual rigor.  They are still kids, but they are also learning to think like adults.  They’re learning humor, even if it is awkward.  Someday they’ll realize that a Lego Stephen Hawking might be offensive.

#36: insightful, outrageous suggestions

We’re reading cultural mythology right now, along with myths and legends.  After the initial reading of “Racing the Bear,” a student asks me, “Do you think this is how they meant for it to be read?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, in a classroom with lights on and everything.  It sort-of feels like reading the Bible on a toilet.”  ‘

We briefly discuss how one’s environment shapes what people read.  Then he suggests, “We should create a cave so that it’s all dark and then read the story by a fire.  Yep, this story definitely needs a fire.”

I wish I could do something about it.  I wish I could run with his suggestion.  Instead, we’ll work on sequencing the plot, understanding the cultural values, comparing it to other literature and defining vocabulary.  Somewhere in the mix, if we can let the story sink in, we might just catch a glimpse of the fire.  But for now, the story will bathe in the flickering fluorescent lights.