We now are teachers of children who step over crack vials and pass homeless people in their doorways before they ever get to class. They know about polluted air and water. They know something of endangered animals and the disappearing ozone layer. Their streets are dirty, their subways are dangerous, and their parks are unusable. They must walk in groups to be safe, and they fear being alone at home. Their heroes have betrayed them with drugs, deceit, and dishonor, and there is no one left to look up to. Is it any wonder that they have become the discouraged children of a discouraging society? We are their teachers, and we have to do something.
In so many ways, we are all they have. Somehow, we have to remind ourselves that these children have been cheated out of their childhood. Their cynicism and hopelessness are not unfounded. Their anger is not the anger of children. Their distrust is that of someone far beyond their years.
We cannot change the world or bring back the past. But we can be an oasis for a disheartened generation. We no longer can teach as we did in less desperate times. If we can help children once again believe in themselves, maybe they will once again believe in us. And if that happens, maybe we will find a way to make the world a bit more innocent for the children of tomorrow. Reggie Avraham
The author teaches science at Anne Sullivan School, a junior high school in Brooklyn, N.Y.