An Example of Why Change Comes From Us (within) or How Parents and Students Can Effect Change Within the Education System

This post began in a rather round about way…..I was talking to a close friend in the processing pipeline of being a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.  My friend called with all of the generic questions, concerns, fears, angst, etc. of going in for the ‘interview’ at the Peace Corps office where some one decides if you are worthy of representing the United States abroad as an educated good will ambassador (this friend exceeds at and exemplifies those qualities).

There are many typical questions (I had them as well before I went to my interview to become a Peace Corps Volunteer) and now, in retrospect, I realize how much I have grown and changed while knowing everyone has to go through the process to get to the other side of understanding (This friend, however, is really already on the other side and many questions were cursory).  The most obvious and yet disconcerting question for females is personal hygiene/sanitary needs while serving in a third world country which usually has bathroom facilities quite different from the American standard (even the American quaint and rustic standard).  I explained my experience in Namibia and what I know of friends who served in other regions and the basic answer is this:  all those ‘products’ are darn expensive in third world countries, most especially tampons.  In addition, the further out of the city you are , the less likely you are to even find tampons so women do the following: pack a six month supply when you leave and have some one send out a six month supply a couple more times to you while in Peace Corps unless otherwise instructed by you when you find out what is available at your post.  Interestingly, Peace Corps considers the expense of sanitary products part of the monthly cost of living allotment you are given in Peace Corps so women are ‘punished’ for menstruating while men have the benefit of a few extra dollars each month – I won’t even go into this issue here as it is obvious that the U.S. practices what the EEOC would call one of the issues of differential attitude based on gender.

My friend laughed  along with me when I  stated the above on the phone and we both  admitted that menstruating abroad was the least of the issues to be dealt with while going to a third world country.   We finished the long conversation and I longed for those days in Peace Corps when life had substantially more meaning – as if what I did was actually important and mattered.

The following day, I woke up to the Mark Morford Column on being Outraged.  Although the column cracked me up laughing in its usual truth and sincerity, it also made me reflect on the times when I deal with students and parents in a school setting and they are outraged just because. 

You surely are, yes? Outraged, that is? Seething and churning and burning up inside, deeply upset about that thing that just happened and which you did not want to occur in that particular way even though it totally did? Damn right. – Mark Morford

I had my laugh but deep down realized that the true outrage I felt was towards all the people who had little if any understanding of American Privilege as they had not lived abroad and so could not understand the true difference of outrage and OUTRAGE.  For the next few days I stewed upon this column (in a good, positive way) trying to understand what it was that affected me emotionally and how to use it in a meaningful manner.  While “processing” the column in my mind, I read The New York Times on Sunday morning and found D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution which helped me put the four seemingly unrelated ideas together: outrage about things which really are outrageous (which Americans rarely if ever experience unless they leave the U.S.),  third world countries and the problems women in these countries face, education systems and work situations in third world countries which defy even the broad meaning of substandard and the fear of the unknown my friend expressed in the phone call to me.

As I read through The New York Times article on DIY Foreign Aid Revolution, I realized what it was which really outraged me – the students, parents, teachers and administrators I come into contact with as an educator who have the courage to complain about the U.S. education system – up to and including the funding.   Even when I try to share  experiences and ideas like those in The NYTimes article, I find that Americans are outraged about some things  considered pretty ridiculous and mundane in light of this being a first world country. 

It is difficult to tell people who believe their level of outrage over their circumstances in the U.S. is actually somewhat shallow (although I certainly try when I am in a line somewhere and people are complaining and I remind them this is far better than what people go through in, say, Namibia, where I served in Peace Corps) and yet it is.   Outrage comes when we are faced with anger over a ridiculous situation.  Outrage and ambition actually produces the character of people in The NYTimes article.

Which, more simply put, is this:  If people in the U.S. actually leveraged their outrage to do something about the state of things in the U.S., such as education, we could have change – instead, we have sold out to all the organizations which manage to market to us and we are still outraged. Parents have decided that parenting is not something they need to do, it is the education systems job. Students have decided studying is too difficult in the U.S. when asked to TURN OFF THE TV OR COMPUTER OR IPOD……

 Americans collectively  believe somehow that outrage (possibly even being an educated voter and voting in an election) without ambition is acceptable and expect those of us in education to take them seriously.   It is difficult to do that when I have experienced how the rest of the world manages and have lived it twice – once as a Peace Corps Volunteer and once working/living in Kenya.  

I long for the day when people (especially students and parents in the U.S.) stop acting as though educators are the ‘enemy’ and actually take action.  Unfortunately, without a comparison of what to be outraged against, we get

It goes like this: the more ridiculous, tiny, arcane or completely irrational the object of your outrage is, the more you know you have attained ultimate freedom. You are living the real American Dream, hereby defined as being endlessly upset and miserable about totally meaningless bulls–t for no valid reason whatsoever because you have everything you could ever want or need in this life, ever. – Mark Morford

And so, while the weather is getting more chill filled and the days shorter, take the time to read both the articles above and work on some ambition of how you will make a difference.