Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I sit here, in my parents' basement, relaxing during Thanksgiving break. Well, I guess that's a lie. I'm not really relaxing, I'm kinda just marinating, waiting for school to start back up. It's weird to see your home (including the house, and the town, and the state, and the region) as a temporary destination instead of someplace I belong. I did not even feel this way when I was in college and came home for short vacations and major holidays.

Returned to the high school I attended (CCHS) today, namely to visit a few teachers but also out of sheer curiosity as to how the students compared to my current little angels. Of course, the most apparent difference is in discipline; for the brief time I was at CCHS I saw no major issues. Or minor issues. Damnit, the kids didn't even speak out of turn during the class I attended. Now, of course I didn't expect anything to happen, especially since I attended a Catholic school, but I was really hoping for something to occur. I was sitting at the back of the classroom, and for a few moments I indulged my fantasies by silently plotting how I could get the kids to revolt and force my old history teacher to deal with an insurrection. Alas, such thoughts remained fantasies.

Perhaps it was their strict adherence to the school's uniform policy, but the students at CCHS seemed older, more mature, and better prepared for class. In short, I was jealous, not so much for myself but for my own students. If they had caring parents, if they had stable families, if they had a reason to believe a good education could lead to a more successful life. If my students posessed these and a hundered other
advantages enjoyed by the students I saw today, perhaps my students would walk with the same confidence and swagger that I see amongst the kids who currently attend my high school alma-mater.

Also went down to Harvard to do some research. While sitting in the Law Library, I realized my students would never have the opportunity to see the inside of this building or, I guess more accurately, be involved with such a respected, powerful institution (education or otherwise). These were, quite literally, halls of power through which my students will never stride. I had no feelings about this realization, it was just something that came to my mind.

I do not expect my students to attend Harvard, or Stanford, or Oxford, or any other similar institution. Heck, even if one of my students was able to get into an Ivy, I am not sure I would want him or her to attend that school. It's a completely different world; they're not ready for it and the world would eat them up a la last night's leftovers. My hope for my best students is that they graduate and are able to attend a regional school: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tulane, Memphis, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, etc. I think it would be great for them to get outside of the state of Mississippi and the South in general, but I am not sure if college would be the optimum time. I love my students too much; for the most part they are good, sweet kids who are - for lack of a better word - very simple. Though the circumstances of their lives may become extremely complex, particularly at home, my students have a very simple understanding of the world beyond Hinds County, Mississippi. The vast, vast majority (maybe all) of them would not be able to handle attending an internationally-renowned university in their current intellectual, social, and cultural state. They'd be devoured. The community must first take baby steps. A grandfather goes to Ole Miss and becomes a small-scale entrepreneur. The son attends Vanderbilt and becomes a lawyer. Assuming a solid intellectual and cultural nurturing from his father and grandfather, the grandson would then be ready to tackle the cream of the crop.

Yes, I realize I sound like a modern-day version of Booker T. Washington. I realize that my opinions rest on a graduated solution to an injustice. I could be wrong; in fact, I am sure many will tell me that I am. But, sitting in the reading room at Harvard was a shocking wakeup call that reminded me of just how much my community (and perhaps the majority of Mississippi) has to grow before it can send its most prepared sons into the halls of power.

An aside: I finally laid eyes on my diploma upon arriving home for Thanksgiving. It's a small piece of paper, which is a bit disappointing. However: it is also written completely in Latin, a fact which got me unnecessarily excited.


Blogger Peetie Wheatstraw said...

But, sitting in the reading room at Harvard was a shocking wakeup call that reminded me of just how much my community (and perhaps the majority of Mississippi) has to grow before it can send its most prepared sons into the halls of power.

I'm not sure you've seen enough of Mississippi to make that call. I can think of, just off the top of my head, of Mississippi's sons I went to school with that made perfect scores or ACTs or SATs, med students at John Hopkins and Harvard, Truman Scholars, and the list goes on. Keep in mind that you're teaching in one of the lowest possible areas.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Adam Ewing said...

You're right, and I tried to temper my words to reflect those notable exceptions. I commonly paint with too wide a brush. Nevertheless, those success stories of which you write remain distinctly uncommon.

12:59 PM  
Blogger EM said...

Dozens (if not all) of the kids I went to school with could have gone (and in many cases did go) to top tier schools (Harvard, MIT, Yale, Berkeley, West Point, Air Force, Rice, Duke, ...). I am a product of Mississippi public schools. How many of your high school classmates are doctors (of the medical variety)? About 20% of mine are. How many of your high school classmates have advanced degrees? Dozens of mine do. Do you still feel the need to preach about Mississippi not being able to send her sons "into the halls of power." Please enlighten me as to which halls I'm missing.

Are you really naive enough to think that your state doesn't have poor, depressed areas? I'm not saying that Mississippi doesn't have more than her fair share; she does. But she also produces plenty of doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, ... And if you "temper[ed] [your] words to reflect ... exceptions," you did a less than stellar job of it. I don't think Peetie's examples are uncommon in the least.

As a side note, I've recently been in touch with some of my former students, and several of them are in graduate school. They are not as uncommon as you would like to believe.

8:18 PM  
Blogger EM said...

I resent the Grandpa goes to Ole Miss, Daddy goes to Vandy, Baby goes to Harvard... I have a doctorate, my father has a juris doctor, his father couldn't read. We're all Mississippians, and we skipped a few steps in your plan.

As Reggie Barnes has probably told you, you can't help those kids by feeling sorry for them. I'm telling you that you can't help them by believing that they are less than capable.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Adam Ewing said...

re: your comments on my blog; not really sure when they were...

1. never did i say that the students were any less capable. my comments had nothing to do with the quality of the individual but with the quality of the community and home in which they were raised. your personal experience - namely your father's education and the role it played in making you an intelligent, driven, worldly, and capable individual - strengthens my original point.

2. the high school you attended, while nominally public, draws from across the entire state of mississippi and is devoted to creating medical doctors. you might have wanted to mention this when you made your selective comparison about doctors.

3. poverty in my state? yes, i am aware of it. i attended high school in my state's poorest town, the town in which my father was raised and some of my family still resides. but, again, this is really not relevant because you missed my point. i was not claiming anything about my home state (though i am sure it is much better off than mississippi), but rather about individuals with "privileged" backgrounds (financial, familial, educational, and in other ways) and are given the opportunity to attend institutions such as harvard.

8:05 PM  
Blogger EM said...

1. I'll admit that you never said that your students were less than capable; however, claiming that they would be eaten up "a la last night's leftovers" is not exactly showing your faith in them or their coping mechanisms or adaptablilty. The implication is that they are less capable than someone who could cope with or adapt to such situations. Your seeming lack of confidence in them is not reassuring.

As to my family's educational story supporting your theory, I don't see it that way at all. My mother's family is full of college graduates (primarily in engineering, science, and related fields) for several generations back, and I would say that my grandfather's inability to read made me crave education much more than my father's JD or my mother's MS. My grandfather couldn't read me stories. My father's family didn't have indoor plumbing until he was 12 years old. His family was POOR. Those things made me want more. I never wanted to be pitied for things or disadvantaged in ways that I have the ability to prevent. I also think that my family's recent history made it easier for me to identify with my students because my reality is only slightly removed from theirs - one generation separates us.

2. My high school is not in any way "devoted to creating medical doctors," and I'm unsure of where you encountered such misinformation. Regardless, be informed that the point of my school is NOT to create medical doctors, and a 20% success rate at producing physicians would make the devotion misplaced to say the least. My high school is devoted to promoting the ideals of scholarship, service, creativity, and community. The overwhelming majority of us were public school kids prior to MSMS, and MSMS is definitely public making all of the graduates Mississippi public school students.

Additionally, I can think of four or five students from my home high school class of ~150 students who are MDs, and I can think of six or seven from my brothers class of ~120 who are MDs. Not the impressive 20% of my real high school, but not too shabby for a fairly average Mississippi public school (a level 3 school in a town of ~12,000). Many other public school kids from Mississippi achieve equally great things.

Your idea that "perhaps the majority of Mississippi has to grow before it can send its most prepared sons into the halls of power" is entirely false. Her most prepared sons are already rocking the "halls of power." I find your narrow view of my home offensive and wrong, and my point is to increase your awareness.

3. You claim that you "paint with too wide a brush." I certainly won't disagree with that confession. Your original post makes claims regarding the entire state and all of her citizens. I support Peetie's claim that "[he's] not sure you've seen enough of Mississippi." I brought up the depressed areas of your state to remind you that the factors that grew you into the person who went to Brown are not the only possible scenario. Please don't lump all of my state into a crap heap when I'm sure we both know that very few things are ever all bad, or all good for that matter. Plenty of people in Mississippi have privledged backgrounds and accomplish wonderful, amazing things, yet you neglected all of the positive aspects to emphasize the negative ones. You missed my point - Mississippi is not the simple picture that you attempt to paint. Your view is too narrow, and it might behoove you to remember that when you write.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Adam Ewing said...

Nothing is simple enough to be represented by a few words in a blog posting, and certainly my words cannot accomplish this.

My words regarding the "halls of power" were based on "my students" and "my community," not the entirety of this complex state. I would never be stupid enough to make such a sweeping generalization.

I would love to subscribe to the view of Mississippi that you espouse, but I can only react to what I have experienced, as limited as you may think that experience is. Very simply: I haven't seen it.

8:31 PM  

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