Regular readers may recall that back in November I expressed my frustrations with the direction Obama and Duncan have taken in education through an open letter to the President. I also began a Facebook group, Teachers’ Letters to Obama, and collected over 100 passionate and well-informed letters, which I sent to Obama and Duncan in December. One of those letters stuck with me. I wanted to share it with my readers, but the author asked me to wait -- he had some plans in the works. Those plans are now in place, so today I share with you this letter from Jesse Turner:
Walking is an old story for me. As a child my mother, sisters, and I spent a winter without gas heat, (Father walked out on us--we could not pay the gas bill before the winter legal shut off date). We had a little kerosene heater for our only source of heat in our apartment. It was the coldest winter of our lives. My mother was a waitress working 10 hours a day six days a week. There was never enough of anything.
I guess you might call us the original latch key kids of the 1960’s. We stole electricity from a socket in the hallway. Only one appliance at a time could be put on, and only at night. We were afraid someone would find out what we were doing. Each evening as our mother climbed the three flights of stairs to our little apartment we were there at the door complaining, “we’re cold, mom, and tired of sandwiches.” We moaned and we moaned every night.
She would kick off her white shoes, take off the red apron, and sit
down, and say “how was school today?”
We would shut off the lamp, put on the candle, and turn on the electric kettle. We tell her school was warm. We tell her no one got in trouble. My sisters would say we went to the library. The library was warm, and the library ladies were nice. As soon as she took that first sip of tea almost on cue I would say, “I’m cold mom.”
It never ceases to amaze me how she held it all in. Always a brave smiling face saying “well, then, let’s all have some tea” to warm everyone up. We would sleep with blankets, coats and sweaters.
We woke up during each night with cold noses, and blew warm air into cupped hands to warm them. I love doing that to this very day on a cold day.
Mother came home from work one particularly bad snowy night to find us huddled together complaining about how cold it was in our little apartment. This night tea was not enough. So she says “let’s walk around. Let’s walk around the apartment. Let’s start in the kitchen, and move from room to room. Let’s keep walking. Don’t stop! Keep walking now. Let’s keep adding some more clothes. Put a pair of pants over your pajamas. Put an extra shirt on. Keep walking. Don’t stop. Put on an extra sweater. Put your coats on. Keep walking -- don’t stop.”
“Hey little Jess, you look like you are sweating. You must be hot.” “Oh yes, momma, I’m hot. Let’s take off our coats.”
All warm and cozy we sat down, and mom told us the story of the Hebrews, and how they walked for 40 years in the desert. We grew up watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, walk all over this nation of ours on television. I learned about the Cherokee Nation and their “Trail of Tears” in school. Years later on the Navajo nation I would learn about the Navajo “Long Walk” from my friend Tony Gatewood on the third mesa. I have no illusions about walking. I only know somehow it keeps us warm. It starts things moving, and it is so much better than standing still. Plus I have some other feet stepping beside me to help pull it off.
I figure we’ll start walking this year, and maybe some others will join us next year, and maybe some more after that. I don’t know where it will go, but I want to walk just the same.
This is not just about walking,
This is about feeling powerless,
This is about starting things moving,
This is about one trillion dollars not being spent on tutors to help teachers in their classrooms reach children who are falling behind,
This is about not hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce class size,
This is about 94 dead teenagers in Chicago,
This is about one teenager set on fire by other teenagers in Florida,
This is about a young 15-year old California girl raped in public view after her homecoming dance,
This is about the 2009 US Justice department report showing over 60% of American children reporting they were exposed to violence last year, and no one questioning this,
This is about another White House looking at test scores rather than looking at the human faces behind their numbers.
This is about spending a trillion dollars on new tests; curriculum packages that come in boxes, and endless new standards that US Department of Education Impact study after Impact study show declines in comprehension and no effects.
This is about a new form of insanity, one that spends billions everywhere, except where it is needed most.
This is about another generation being left behind.
This is about Sarah’s (one of our new inservice teachers) first grade reader reading at the third grade level having to sit through phonics lessons because he needs to learn to sit still, (when she knows it is because he does not fit in their little boxes).
I have no power. I have no army.
Like you Mr. President, I too have an audacity to hope and two feet willing to walk. I am one man, but I can be a witness. I can walk to DC, and tell parents, teachers, and children someone is listening. My name is Jesse Turner, and this summer I am walking to Washington DC to protest this misguided educational reform policy.
I am not alone. I have joined “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” Join me there, and join with the more than 1530 people who have joined the Facebook group I created, “Children are more than test scores” You can also follow my blog, Children are more than test scores.
We are walking to Washington, DC.
Director of the Central Connecticut State
University Literacy Center
New Britain, Connecticut
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.