This Is What Happens When We Stay Quiet

John Spencer Current Affairs

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I wrote a post about how we should change professional development. It had hundreds of tweets and eight thousand page views. People gave it the best possible digital thumbs up they could offer. Talking about professional development is easy, especially when you're offering solutions. 

But here’s the thing: as much as PD matters, it’s not what I would change about schools. In fact, the biggest factor I would change has nothing to do with school at all. It has everything to do with immigration policy and what it does to kids growing up in America. 

Case in point: Alma, a twenty-something college student, sends me a Facebook message. “Mr. Spencer, I’m not sure college is worth it anymore. I didn’t get any scholarships and it’s too expensive and I’m trying my best working two jobs. My grades are good, but I'm not sure anyone will hire me.”

She is seeing that the American Dream has an asterisk; that for all the talk of Dreamers and the talk of a Dream Act, the fact that she doesn’t have the right number next to her name means she is a second-class citizen. I take that back. She’s not a citizen at all, even though she works hard and believes in the dream and calls this nation her own.

Fast-forward a day. I’m testing the “trouble-makers” during our benchmarks and a boy offers some of the best questions and offers some of the best theories. I’ve had him in class and his programming skills are amazing. However, when I ask him about school and grades and everything else, he is fatalistic.

“Why bother?” he asks. “I’m just lucky if I don’t get deported.”

I don't have an answer for him. 

When we talk about technology and education policy and instructional design, we tend to think about these ideas in a magical place of social neutrality that denies the heartbreaking reality that because of accident of birth, some of our most amazing children will grow up without a shot at the American Dream.

This socially neutral place is not where I live. It's not where I teach, either. The reality is that immigration policy permeates every aspect of life in Maryvale. 

When I mention it at conferences, people clam up. I've seen people walk away from the conversation. When I blog about it, people don’t read it or retweet it. When I suggest it in educational contexts, I am reminded in the gentlest voices possible that this is a “political issue” and it is “probably not the place to talk about such things.”

And so it continues. My students face a paper border that keeps them away from a fair and equitable education and the educational community continues to stay quiet, reinforcing the power structures, because we are convinced that it's not our business.


John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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Comments 3

  1. Kathy

    I don’t have an answer either. All I know is we have to have hope and believe that we can work together to make a difference. With all the talk of immigration reform I don’t even think people are thinking about the kids caught in the middle. Every kid deserves an opportunity for a great future…if you work hard you should be able to reap the rewards of hard work. Plain and simple.
    We must do better or we will lose an entire generation of youth. Lost opportunities for us all.

  2. Greg Broberg

    John – you pose an excellent question. One thing I do with students in college is to ask them what is there passion and what are planning to do when they graduate? They usually give me a strange look. The reality is that the days of a job being available for a graduating student with a diploma are over. It is all about connecting your education with your passion. Maximizing the opportunity – not simply relying upon a “grade”. We need to move students away from grades and teach them to use their education to build their own “American Dream”.
    Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront.

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