Sunday, February 23, 2014

By:  Michael Lambert

Back in the mid to late 80's I was a spec ed teacher at IS 302 in the East New York Section of Brooklyn which, at the time, had the highest homicide rate in NYC. One September, Matelyn, Ian, Germaine and Patrick walked into my room the first day of school and I'll tell you up front; this Puerto Rican from whitebread Queens was intimidated. They were big. Germaine was the... school's alpha male and the others were his boys.

Germaine had come up to me the previous spring, stopped me in the hall and said, "You're gonna be my teacher next year and you're gonna make me learn so I can get my black ass out of this neighborhood."

All four of them were profoundly learning disabled.

Now let me tell you about Rafael Cordero, IS 302. it was built in the 70's with a strong vocational training infrastructure. Machine shop, wood shop, cosmetic shop, and more.

Then that damn report was released: A Nation at Risk.

The shops were turned into classrooms and the vocational training programs gutted. You with me?

The stats, at the time, said that those four boys had NO chance of getting out of that neighborhood. They were going to wind up dead or in jail and they have haunted me for 23 years. They were great kids and while they were in my class no one messed with Mr. Lambert. They watched my car in the afternoon until I got to it. They worked their asses off every day for me.

They had NO chance and any chance they could have had was stolen from them by the same goddam politics that is screwing with us today. I don't want to hear any "if they worked hard enough."

That's a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better.

I don't care what any one of them might have done to wind up behind bars. As far as a lot of those kids were concerned, their petty thefts and drug dealing was just small scale of what goes on in the halls of power and they were not and are not wrong.

Those human beings deserve a shot and if providing them with an education will salvage their lives than we owe it to them to give it to them.

But that is not why I have been a member of the Badass Teachers Association from day one. I am here to save my profession, to save my students' education from the goddam bureaucrats, politicians and CEO's who are trying to monetize the public school system for fun and profit.

And we are winning. Let's keep our eyes on that prize, focused like a laser beam and push while we have our adversaries back on their heels.

We can help those inmates and the thousands of mentally ill who are also incarcerated for no other reason than that they are sick and we have allowed their support systems to crash and burn, when we are done.

That's my piece. For what it's worth.

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