Saturday, October 29, 2016

Think before you pull out the red pen

The world has become more sensitive to aggressions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, and nationality. There is also classism. Here is a story.

I was in a gifted-and-talented program in the Houston public schools from age 9. My first principal begged my parents to put me in it, because he said his school couldn't handle my intellect and he didn't want my potential wasted. (Thanks, Mr. Bruce!)

My father was a school teacher before he moved into the trucking industry. Several of his sisters were teachers. My mother's mother and her great aunt were also teachers; my mother was a school nurse. There are doctors and architects and businesspeople on both sides of my family. So -- I come from a family of college-educated people who read for fun.

However, Houston also is affected by classism (as well as racism and sexism). My story is one about classism.

My test scores were never in doubt. My grades and ambition were easily verifiable -- until I got to high school. A specialty high school, with hand-picked teachers with masters' degrees and academic counselors to help us get into college.

One of my favorite teachers stopped being my favorite when she asked me, in front of the other kids, why I was so much smarter than someone whose father was very prominent and powerful. I didn't know what to say, and so I didn't say anything. What did someone's parent have to do with his/her intelligence? Why would she ask me such a thing?

A year later, my parents separated -- and rather than start smoking and drinking and having sex in the hallways, my siblings and I buckled down and turned in our best grades, coursework, and test scores. The counselor called me in to ask why we were excelling when our parents were divorcing, rather than flunking out of class. I knew, because of the classroom gossip, that SHE was divorcing her husband and was having a custody fight over their little boy. SO I ASKED HER WHY SHE CARED ABOUT US WHEN HER MARRIAGE WAS FALLING APART and then left her office. (I'd clearly developed more moxie since sophomore year.)

I have no idea where that teacher is. The counselor recently died after an illness, and my former classmates all mourned her on FB. I didn't mourn her; I figured cancer was her karma. It stung to have people I trusted and respected question my intellect and drive. But you know what? I did what my parents expected me to do, which is go to the best schools possible and earn my degrees and build my career. I wasn't "high society" enough for my public school educators (which is its own special irony), and I'd like to think that my life is a pair of middle fingers to them and their small minds.

But that's looking back. Today's teachers undoubtedly have experienced similar stings -- and should be called out for perpetuating this.

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