Last Friday, just one week ago, over a great looooong lunch at Sparkytown in my hometown with a new colleague/friend, Yvonne Murphy, I made a life-changing decision. I am going to finish my B.A.
I declare this publicly so I cannot back out.
I have been declaring it all week to friends and colleagues. I want this decision to be a part of my body consciousness and I want to move beyond the roadblock I have negotiated my entire adult life.
I recognize and own that I have also accepted and even created the roadblock. Other times I have contemplated returning to college and getting the degree and it has usually been lack of funds that I have allowed to stop me. It was partially that factor that caused me to leave school in the first place. But now, 3 weeks before I turn 58 (just 2 years shy of 60!), with the loss of my major contract and no solid work ahead (or so it seems this morning), unable to even place my hat in the ring for many jobs I know in which I could be fully effective due to this perceived deficit, I can no longer avoid this completion.
I have written before of why I am so committed to my students and to the work in schools, especially the disenfranchised, the overlooked, the undervalued and insecure; I am them. Care to see who some of those young people may be as adults…here I am. And honestly, it is so easy for educators, psychologists, sociologists, politicians, etc., to focus on the youth of color as the ones who are slipping through and away. So much of the discussion is focused on urban education and urban life as the cauldron of neglect. In fact, it is often. I overstand the plight of poverty and how it is statistically weighted in the Black citizenry of our nation, and fully recognize the struggles of Latino/Hispanic Americans as well. I must also point out that we rarely even see indigenous people represented on any PowerPoint pie chart of the poor and disenfranchised. But that also becomes a marginalization and stereotype that people can use to keep their assumptions about people of color intact, to perpetuate the stereotypes, as well as continue to allow many others to be faceless and failing.
It is so easy to identify “these kids” as single-parent children, or children whose parents are negligent, abusive, drug users or drunks as well as other than White. Yet, some of those same traits also occur in cul-de-sacs of McMansions. Another consideration: there are caring parents who are poor as well. Sure, the incidents of broken homes and suffering families may be skewed toward people living in poverty but I see these same conditions in rural school districts of predominantly White students, as well as parents who are anything but present regarding their children in suburbia. I actually believe that most children are at risk in America. Look at the divorce rate. Look at the spread of addiction and substance abuse across all socio-economic strata. Look at the decimation of our system of education and the conversation in America today on the floors of Congress, at town hall meetings, and on the news squawks.
Teachers are often the first line of defense for a child in need. But then, can we place all that responsibility on them? And are they always able to manage recognizing the signs? Teachers did not see that I was a solitary child, that I felt completely outside of my peers, that I had tremendous responsibility for my siblings, and after my mother died, all that was magnified significantly. Guidance counselors and adults did not see that I was in a desperate depression. College professors did not see I was at risk for dropping out and barely hanging on. I fit an image of smart young White kid and I acted well for adults.
After I left school, with no emotional support from key adults, such as both my fathers, I slammed through life like a pinball. I have a multitude of jobs in my history and a long list of attempts at alternate careers, often stymied by my lack of a diploma. Ironically, most people now who know my work or collaborate with me assume I have graduate level degrees. I am a graduate of the school of learn it as you go and learn it well to compete. But I lose out too often. I have made a series of poor choices. Other times I have just been stopped for other reasons and family matters that took precedent in my forward movement.
In the meantime, I have also accomplished a long list of amazing feats. I need to be more focused on that tally than what I have not achieved or where I believe I have failed. I find I am not always my best judge.
Now is the time for me to accept that I am my own obstacle in the lack of degree. A diploma is not an assessment of my worth. It is just a way to qualify my knowledge, talent, and skill for the system in which we operate. It is a necessary prop in a society and a generation that has lost a value for self-education and skilled trades. It causes me great concern when I hear all this national conversation about the press for college. But that is a topic for another post, I imagine.
I was frightened off from meeting this accomplishment over and over for the past four decades. Now is the time to stop believing that I am not worthy, that it is too hard, that there is no money for me to do it. I have $150 to deposit in my checking account today…all the money I have. I stripped out my very modest IRA to pay bills this summer. I somehow made the mortgage payment and last month’s car payment last week. I can pay another bill that will stop one of the incessant phone calls from a creditor or another with this check.
I am teaching a couple of courses and I have a small part-time job. I am hoping for another opportunity for employment. Next week I present with my collaborator and creative partner at the Preemptive Education Conference in NYC, then on to workshop with students who will be working in New Haven Schools and offer a reading of our poetry at the University of New Haven. We will sell some books as well.
Then I will come home, make arrangements for my transcripts from three different colleges, if they can find them in the vaults, and sit down to chart my course to my college diploma. That meeting should probably happen just around the time of my birthday. I can’t imagine a better gift to myself.
And, I will continue my work…and continue recognizing myself in the faces of the young Black man in the back row, the freckle-faced girl huddled near the window, the Mexican 4th grader who loves to write and cannot stop, the boy who sings all the time and thinks no one will ever like him, the child in every desk, the teen behind every hip posture, the faces of those who just need to know that there are adults who believe that they are marvelous just because they are alive.
Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.