Friday, April 6, 2018

Always Skeptical Never Cynical

Our Schools in West Philadelphia:

Alexander Wilson ~ Public School
Where Ben & Sam attended Montessori Pre - K

Samuel Powel ~ Public School
Where Ben attended 1st Grade

Previously University City New School
Where Ben attended 2nd & 3rd grade;
and Sam attended Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade

Avery D. Harrington ~ Public School
53rd & Baltimore
Old Entrance

New Entrance

I include this one because it is just a few blocks
from our house at 48th & Baltimore,
where we lived from 1993 - 2001
and where the Harrington Family lived from 1916 - 1934
Avery Draper Harrington & his wife Emma L. Harrington
followed by their son Avery Draper Harrington, Jr.
& his wife Matilda R. Metz Harrington
[see also: Avery R. Harrington
& his wife Carolyn Beckenbaugh Harrington]


When speaking at Purdue earlier this year,
former Governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey,
offered the following advice:

"maintain skepticism; always question
avoid cynicism; never lose hope
look for the correlation between effort and results
avoid the vortex of self pity
ask for help
let someone love you
freedom is not phony
protesting is an act of strength not weakness"


A related message from
Tim Kreider:

"And cynicism is also a kind of faith:
the faith that nothing can change,
that those institutions are corrupt
beyond all accountability,
immune to intimidation or appeal."


In light of the above, I recently read the following,
by two hard - working, inspiring authors
improving the world through words and deeds
bearing witness to injustice yet avoiding cynicism
while maintaining skepticism of the status quo and offering hope
for fair housing and equitable education in the United States:

1. Suggested by my friend Mumbi; related to her work
as a teacher in the New Jersey Public School System:

Teaching in the Terrordome:
Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America

by Heather Kirn Lanier (2012)
I was an irony - loving child of the eighties, prone to sarcasm, suspicious of Hallmark, and I believed that we were, all of us, a little broken. how could I "save" anyone?

And yet. And yet, the world was still broken. And thousands of of idealistic college graduates -- yes, many of whom were white -- were willing to help, or at least try. I had landed in my generation's postmodernist predicament; even if . . . our ways of trying to fix things might say more about our own brokenness than the targets of our salvation, couldn't and shouldn't we still do something?

Educational inequity is our nation's greatest injustice. You can change this
. (emphasis in original, 19)

Nobody had claimed that they'd taken their tenth graders and risen them three or four grade - levels in their short semester, maybe because their are limits to what a teacher can achieve in a given semester. Maybe because by the time students get to high school, too many habits are learned, too many paths are laid down, too many behaviors are carved.

Did I honestly believe that? The idealist in me, a pom-pom waving crusader of just causes, a prominent part of myself before I started Teach For American, would have said no. Absolutely not. There are no limits to humanity. But I mourned that I now had a newly born realist lurking inside, a jaded woman who felt simultaneously angry that each story didn't end in redemption, and tired of believing that it could. Yes, she thought. Some things were probably impossible.
(emphasis in original, 213 - 14)

2. Suggested by my son Ben; related to his research
of mortgage trends and voting rates in the United States:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond (2016)
Still, I wonder sometimes what we are asking when we ask if findings apply elsewhere. Is it that we really believe that something could happen in Pittsburgh but never in Albuquerque, in Memphis but never in Dubuque? The weight of evidence is in the other direction, especially when it comes to problems as big and as widespread as urban poverty and unaffordable housing. This study took place in the heart of a major American city [Milwaukee], not in an isolated Polish village or a brambly Montana town or on the moon. (333 - 34)

We have affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen because we have recognized that human dignity depends on the fulfillment of these fundamental human needs. And it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart. . . . we could still afford to offer this crucial benefit to all low - income families in America. . . . it is well within our capacity. We have the money. We've just made the choices about how to spend it. Over the years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have restricted housing aid to the poor but expanded it to the affluent in the form of tax benefits for homeowners. . . . If poverty persists in American, it is not for lack of resources. (300, 311 - 12)

If we acknowledge that housing is a basic right of all Americans, then we must think differently about another right: the right to make as much money as possible by providing families with housing -- and especially to profit excessively from the less fortunate. (305)

Read more:
The Guardian ~ April 7, 2016
New York Times ~ April 7, 2018