A Love Letter to Educators

{image: Aline Black, 1906–1974}

A Love Letter to Educators
by Hector Calderon

I once heard the poet Saul Williams say that, "Love is the Soul's Imagination." This definition of love has always moved me. Love requires an act of creativity, an act of invention from a deep place at the center of our being. It is from this place that I write this love letter to you. As an educator you have taken on the noblest cause in the world: the liberation of the human race. Liberation defined as the process of becoming fully human.

As an educator for many years, I have come to know, as I am sure you know, that schools are not just schools. Schools are flashes of the human spirit. They are vehicles by which the soul of every teacher and every student come in to the material world. Schools are not just schools. Schools are old growth forests of the mind, watersheds of thought. Schools are not just schools. Schools are ecosystems of the academic and spiritual possibilities.

But we also know that schools are places that can perpetuate lies, that can affirm myths, and oppress the human spirit. When I think about race and racism as the power of an illusion that has been perpetuated in sacred spaces such as the classroom, I think about my own experience as a young person.

When I first entered a school in the United States, the first thing I was told was that I "needed to learn English and lose my Spanish." Inherent in that statement was the understanding that in order to be accepted I needed to become more "American." But as a kid, I always wondered who was the ideal American that I should model myself to. The answer became very evident by the people I read about in books, the people I saw as teachers, the people I saw in television, and the leaders I saw in power. They were all white.

I remember being very conflicted because nowhere in books or in public spaces did I read about people who looked like me or see people like me. I thought that in order to be accepted I needed to lose everything that made me who I was up to that point. Cultural assimilation became tantamount to cultural annihilation. In my formative years I experienced education as the tool for indocrination rather than "the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world," as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would put it.

I offer a slice of my experience as a student to remind you of a teacher's first dream: to make a difference in the world. I still believe that true education offers us the best chance to change the world within a generation. Classrooms are sacred places where each generation must discover their full humanity.

While it is true that we must teach invaluable language skills, we must also teach young people to use their skills to develop a language of understanding that bridges all cultures. While it is true that we must teach them critical research strategies, we must also teach them to use their insights to serve their communities. While we must cultivate a scientific mind in our students, I would also teach them to use their knowledge to cure diseases of the body and spirit. While we must immerse students in mathematical ideas, we must also help students create equations that lead to equality for all people. While we must teach them artistic skills, we must, more importantly, teach them to use their imaginations to create the "Imagined Nation."

Sizer Fellow Hector Calderon is a co-founder of El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, a public high school established in Brooklyn, New York in 1993 through a joint initiative by the New York City Board of Education and El Puente.

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