A little bit of fertilizer, perhaps. Maybe some worms to aerate the soil. Maybe occasionally we can throw some coffee beans and dirt in their direction. Whether or not they receive it at home, they should receive it in the classroom.
There are those that argue that teachers have too much responsibility, wear too many hats. That it is the teacher's job to merely instruct. That it is the parent's job to parent. That it is the community's job to safeguard. And I agree, for the most part. But our society is deeply broken: parents often work two to three jobs just to keep from being kicked out of their apartments; gangs often run streets and hypes the alleys; houses are run-down; rats are frequent; neighborhoods are red-lined based on economic and racial factors, which means that the poorer, more disenfranchised have less and less access to essential resources; true communities are often a hard-fought prize when families are shuttled in and out on a regular basis; the poor are often criminalized when they cannot find decent-paying jobs and feel a need to resort to other means of money-making; and when the wealthy do come to the 'hood, it is often with the sad attachment of displacing current residents.
Reality in America is different now then it used to be. For starters, we are more self-serving and self-interested (and improbably shorter-sighted) than we used to be. While we have made tremendous progress in human rights, those of us with a progressive bent realize that we have to constantly remind ourselves and our neighbors that we have yet to arrive, that there is immense disparity and inequality between the haves and the have-nots, that basic human rights like life and shelter and sustenance - let alone qualitative education - are viewed as privileges for the elect few who can afford them. Children of the poor specifically suffer as a result of our collective selfishness.
photo © 2009 George Eastman House | more info (via: Wylio)I realize that I cannot be all things to all people. No person can. Most of those mythological teachers, the superheroes who get books and movies glorifying and simplifying their beautiful careers, grow tired soon and do not last long in this treacherous game. And who can blame them? They are overworked and undernourished, pushed on all sides even when given full support from staff, administrators, community leaders and parents*. No real success happens as the result of one person against all other odds. I know it makes for good Hollywood, but teaching isn't friggin' Indiana Jones. It's more like gardening.
A true horticulturist weens, shelters, feeds, develops, supports, prunes, staves off predators and disease, and gives proper and timely amounts of light, heat, and water to an immense amount of plants at any given time. And although he may recognize patterns and adapt better to them, he cannot account for every species of fauna in the same manner. I advocate for a broader base to support the under-served urban and rural students. I advocate, necessitate that each child and student should be raised with plenty of sunshine and nourishment. Teachers often are left to grow kids on their own. And we will fail if that is what is expected of us solely.
This is a sad state, even for a broken neighborhood. Any organization that has a place in the neighborhood needs to function as a support system for the schools around it. This includes the synagogues, mosques, store-front churches, food and liquor stores, the companies that sell products in those stores, certainly the lottery companies that do so much business in impoverished neighborhoods, local and chain restaurants, office buildings, police officers, fire fighters, postal carriers, aldermen. It behooves us all to act in the best interests of the present as well as the future health of our economy and humanity.
It not only behooves us, it will also beheeve us. We have been behoven.
*Of course these elements are overlooked in the Hollywood remakes. It is always presented as Super-Teacher Vs The World. And you wouldn't want some pesky involved parent getting in the way of a good narrative device.