When my friend, Sara told me about her work with InsideOut Literary Arts Project, I was really interested. I am always interested in the work that she does with her high school aged students. It is work that I can’t do. I have been heard to say, on many occasions, that I prefer to teach students that are shorter than me and her students are are way taller than me (and taller than Sara, for that matter). But she has way of connecting and affirming and positively directing their energy without flinching. It’s a blend of innate talent, professional experience and a cup-over-floweth with passion. She honors the inherent worth of every individual. She sees past the cultural vibrato and adolescent attitude and multiple layers of armadillo-like protective coatings. She sees a diamond in the rough in every student. She is an everyday-shero (although she would never admit it).
In case you don’t know, InsideOut engages children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing. They explain on their website (http://www.insideoutdetroit.org) that they place professional writers in schools to help students develop their self-expression and give them opportunities to publish and perform their work.
The other day, Sara gave me a copy of her students’ work – 80 pages of writing and a few drawings bound in a thin shinny brown book entitled Dream Keepers Volume 12, Spring 2011. On the cover is a student pastel drawing of a youth – mouth wide open – screaming – which actually accurately sums up the contents of the book. These students (who have perhaps for the first time found voice AND a listening audience) are screaming-out feelings about the world that they have inherited. I was deeply touched by their words. I want to share one poem in particular.Cause and Effect By Que Macklin ‘Cause I have a learning disability They thought I was dumb ‘Cause they thought I was dumb They always call me names ‘Cause they called me names I’d get really upset and angry ‘Cause I got upset and angry I started fighting ‘Cause I started fighting I got kicked out of school ‘Cause I got kicked out of school I couldn’t learn ‘Cause I couldn’t learn My skills weren’t up to date ‘Cause my skills weren’t up to date I didn’t graduate ‘Cause I didn’t graduate I couldn’t get a job And I was broke and poor ‘Cause I didn’t graduate ‘Cause my skills weren’t up to date ‘Cause I couldn’t learn ‘Cause I got kicked out of school ‘Cause I started fighting ‘Cause I was upset and angry ‘Cause they called me names ‘Cause they thought I was dumb ‘Cause I have a learning disability As a teacher of students with learning disabilities, these words hit home. The issue? Amid new school accountability policies and stiffer promotion and graduation requirements … students with learning disabilities have an unacceptably high dropout rate. Sara said this student wrote this poem and never came back to school … She told me that she was going to follow-up on what happened to him. Sara is a star fish thrower. Do you know the story … the Starfish Story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)? It’s worth repeating here!
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
Thanks, Sara – keep on throwing,