In a Crucible: the Travails of a New Teacher in Atlanta who is Trying to Finding a Balance between the Desire to Serve and being Human

DixieLion

One can only take being disrespected so much in one day, before one has to write about it to share it to get spiritual support.  I think that schools are, in theory, a place where some of the racial tensions in America can be eased, but only if people support teachers. As it stands, teachers are thrust to the front lines of education like young men were sent to World War I. Those people who are angered by these recent police brutality cases should take up the cause of racial reconciliation through education and teach. War teaches one the value of life, so teaching teaches the value of reason. People of all races should not give up on public education and give it a chance to heal the wounds of slavery in America.

Here is what my mentor teacher wrote on my Georgia State University teaching preparation class evaluation form for the Master’s of education program I am in. Pretty much sums up the past few months of depression with my job. “Mr. Erbil is in a classroom setting comprised of entirely of low performing students. He was placed several weeks into the semester with limited experience, and has played catch up since. Let us say crucible. He works hard at providing different instructional methods to a group of students seasoned in the fine art of non-participation, practiced in nonchalance, and steeped in institutional methodology which keeps them properly placed in the process. He reflects daily on what he can do to improve. Given a class of less seasoned veteran DGAD’s; he would be very successful.”  I was taken aback by this review and I am not sure it reflects a compassionate position.

I am overwhelmed by the depth of suffering in the black community I serve some days.  For all the frustration this semester teaching, I know I am at least trying to fight the good fight.  What is the connection between mental illness, 9/11, Ferguson and the ‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ movement, public education, and homelessness? Idea for long blog post that I may turn into a seminary application essay for Candler School of Theology. A collar would give me a pulpit.

The racial situation in America is complex, but I relate to both sides of it a little now that I have had four years of experience with a mental illness diagnosis. I think the problem for blacks is outside in and inside out. I see the cycle as starting in slavery times and never being broken to this day. It is important to remember that, as a white person, I am not fully able to comment on the discrimination because I have never experienced it. However, I was fired from a job at MIT, as my friends can attest, because of a bipolar disorder diagnosis. I lost sleep for days on end, and was told that I did not belong there. So, in my own little way I have tasted the bitter medicine of discrimination, and it absolutely sucks. Quite frankly, that is why I am a teacher today. I have struggled with teaching in the all black school that I am in. There are so many outside in and inside out problems that I do not know where to begin. Many cops and resource officers give the school a prison feel. Perpetual lockdown contributes to that due to fights and a murder earlier this year. Significantly lower test scores than the more affluent white north part of the county. There is a great wide distribution in all ethnic and racial communities, and groups of people have different problems and strengths and therefore it is not possible to make categorical statements. However, knowing what I know about being a man with bipolar disorder I can say that there are aspects of my own group that lead to discrimination, while the cause may be genetic and chemical, that does not stop the social consequences. I want to serve the disadvantaged communities in America with teaching, black and refugee so far, as long as I can stomach the intensity of suffering and despair in these communities. Sometime, that is so overwhelming I want to quit. I can relate to what you said in class, the first semester starting late in the game is brutal and leads one to want to quit. Rather than quit, I have taken a couple of days off from work to degas and restore my sanity. I know the overall cause of my work is good, just like any Quixotic but noble endeavor. The real changes are happening with the emergence of things like the ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ social consciousness movement and internal community improvements in the black communities of America due to the passage of time from the time of slavery. Thing are getting better, but for some it could not come fast enough. It would be nice if we could all realized we are human, and suffering leads to more suffering unless one actively mediates an intervention, either self guided or outside in.

People are still being lynched by Jim Crow to this day, socio-economic lynching.

‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ and the complexity of race in America.

I need to talk to you about the struggle that I feel about my own use of labels. Are labels needed to solve this problem, or are they the problem?

The idealism is starting to wear off, my work this next few years will be hard. What is the solution to Jim Crow in Atlanta, particularly its legacy on our streets and in our schools?

I feel optimistic about the future, and that is a gift. However, I have work to do. Preparing myself spiritually for the challenges ahead as a public school teacher in high need urban environments. I am committed to working three years in a school district in a state of socio-economic poverty. I have meditated on the need of adopting voluntary poverty to prepare spiritually for that challenge. The first challenge will be to deal with the complexity of race in a racially charged city like Atlanta. I need to work hard to not put myself “above” those I serve, and have work to do to that end. Work that will take very strong and conscious meditation and prayer.

I was mugged yesterday night and had my iPhone stolen. I am happy I did not get physically assaulted or worse. A better way to describe what happened to me (after getting my iPhone stolen by being mugged in the Edgewood neighborhood near downtown Atlanta) last night is, “I donated my iPhone to two men in need.” May more practice help me think that thought immediately as opposed to 12 hours later.

Everyone is colorblind, until a real event happens. Then the true colors show. I have some work to do. I was caught labeling someone this morning. Some more thoughts about real thoughts that went through my mind as result of my experience last night (after getting mugged near downtown Atlanta). I was mugged in the Edgewood neighborhood, an interface neighborhood between the rich and poor parts of Atlanta. The poor part is different than the rich part. Yes, but the question is how and what can be done to heal the division. Are labels the problem or a necessary step to a solution? I do not think it is simple.

Feeling reflective this morning. In the role I will serve as an urban educator of those in lower socioeconomic classes, I be on the front line of the war against poverty. Reflecting on how a meditation and prayer practice will be essential to keep a stable and compassion approach to the struggles of urban youth. I do feel a sense of calling to this work, and would like to help educate youth so they stay out of jail. It is not just that, but that is part of it and is a bare minimum. Much of the injustices of American society are given to teachers to “solve.” Even though I am just taking classes, so much of my preparation for work in urban education talks about dealing with behavioral aspects of youth. Crime and ignorance go hand in hand. I am not perfect and have committed many sins. May my imperfections make me more compassionate to other in similar situations.

The thought that I had during the middle of and immediately after getting mugged by two people was, “A thought that came to mind this morning. What can I do to heal the wounds of slavery in the Southern United States?

I was just asked by a black man with no teeth for a dollar. I gave him $7.50. The situation of African-Americans in the United States that leads to the incarceration of 1/3 of black males and homelessness is real and important to work to correct. If the social injustice and inequality did not exist then there would be less crime being committed by African-American males in poverty. I have had time to reflect on the fact that my iPhone was stolen by getting mugged last night and feel, with some perspective and reflecting on some of the Sermon on the Mount, feel the right way to feel about the incident is to not be angry. Rather, I feel now a sense of compassion to the two African-American youth that mugged me. If they are resorting to mugging, then they must be misguided and not have a good set of family or teachers. I feel it is my duty to inspire urban youth to rise above the sins of poverty and live out a better life without stealing. I found this scripture in the Bible that I think speaks truly to the situation, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matt. 5:42). The most frustrating thing is to have all the information in the phone lost and in the hands of another. However, even that is important to put in perspective. What need do I have of a device that stores all my information when pen and paper/notebook will do better. I feel that our technological society tempts us with electronic gadgets (of which I admit I have a weakness for) to distract us from the true meaning of life, giving what we have freely. I feel that I belong in a gift economy where I do not use money to buy things. If I do not use money and accept what is given to me freely, I will be more willing to give freely and not worry about getting mugged as I will have nothing to steal.”

Do labels for people like “bipolar disorder” or “African-American” hurt of help? I have given and received both ends of labeling and have felt the sting of profiling. It is troubling when you catch yourself falling into using labels. It is hard to be truly colorblind and to see through labels because they do carry weight, regardless of what idealism says. I will honestly say having been labeled myself that I do have sympathy for those who find themselves on the short end of the stick of the labeling dichotomy. Labeling is innately human, and is something that we have to use with care. There are ideals and there is reality. The history of slavery in the United States had real repercussions that carry forward to this day, that are measurable. The United States census keeps track of things like socio-economics, racial profiles, and incarceration statistics. The fact is there are correlations, and putting labels on those correlations is not the problem. The problem is the inequity. Until the United States becomes a truly color blind and financially equitable society, labels will remain. They capture the reality situation, not the ideal. I too would love to live in a label free society, but the reality is that it is a long way off. Half of what I am learning in my education classes is about labels. I do not like it and wonder if the labels only perpetuate the division, but I have come to the conclusion that it is not the labels that are the problem. The division is the problem. You cannot simply ignore something as big as the history of slavery, particularly in a Southern city like Atlanta and expect to make any progress on solving the problems. Unfortunately, we live in a society that has to diagnose before it treats. I hate labels, but I will use them freely if they are needed in a frank and honest conversation about solutions. I think the perspective you share is noble and worthy of commendation, but it is not in touch with reality. I strongly respect your sentiment and would love to live in a colorblind society that provides wealth equally to all. However, until that day we have work to do to build that society. You make a good point, and I look forward to the day when I can perfectly hold myself to that standard. All we can do is change ourselves. I believe it would be hard to find a single person who has not used labels on people in some way to make judgements one way or the other. I think the solution to this is act in the way that you would like to see society turn out, even if we are not perfect.

Every day, acts of violence injure more than 6000 people in the United States. Despite decades of social science arguing that joblessness among disadvantaged youth is a key cause of violent offending, programs to remedy youth unemployment do not consistently reduce delinquency. This study tests whether summer jobs, which shift focus from remediation to prevention, can reduce crime. In a randomized controlled trial among 1634 disadvantaged high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43% over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends. The results suggest the promise of using low-cost, well-targeted programs to generate meaningful behavioral change, even with a problem as complex as youth violence. (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6214/1219.full)

A black male student who fights others and is failing my class came to me today asking for help. I thought about all the ‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ posts on my Facebook newsfeed and tried to help him. I recommended finding a mentor and offered to be one. I am not sure if I got through to him, but I tried.

I need a place to talk about race in Atlanta as an advocate for anti-racism and do not know where to start. Any ideas?

I would benefit from a balance in life, perhaps finding a like minded friend.  I realized last night that I have more in common with “hippies” and anarchists than with “normal” people. I ended up going to a singles game night and when I explained my career path through Berkeley, seminary, nonprofit work, and now teaching I realized that I did not fit in with the Midtown business types that were at the event. It is funny, I usually do not think of myself in those terms, but I guess the description is accurate. I do not really think getting arrested protesting is the answer to social ills for some things, but for others I do think it is a good tactic, particularly for the marginalized. I do strongly think direct service and selfless altruism is a step along the right path. Sort of change from within than burning it down and starting over type activism is what I believe in. Jesus Christ was an anarchist, and though I do not identify as a Christian for the most part, I do identify with following in the footsteps of Jesus. I wonder where the hippie, anarchist women hang out?

Intelligent strategies for advocacy for the homeless are something on my mind. Any thoughts on how to avoid the agenda of the church, yet help the cause?  I have two friends that would like to work on a community and spirit building project to merge all these experiences to a positive energy activity in the community.  As  you can see from my desk, I have a lot on my mind and would like to talk the time to blog to process and get feedback.

desk

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InnerLight Enlightenment by Dr. William Kaya Erbil is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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