“I’ve never thought that society should take care of other people’s children.”
- Senator Ron Johnson
Yesterday’s college class was simply even more joyful than I imagined. After reminding them to keep their playful selves alive and kicking, we jumped into the hands-on activity: How to introduce kids to the 12-bar blues in a way that is fun and makes sense to them. I started with my thumbnail history and meaning of the blues in American culture, a tool of survival and resistance and triumph that black Americans crafted (sorry, Mitch McConnell to need to remind you that black Americans are American *) that touched the nerve of so many white folks, helping liberate them from repressed bodies and closed hearts and inviting them into a world of soulful feeling. I reminded them that any pop artist today came from the fertile soil of the blues and to be ignorant of that history means not knowing who to thank and not knowing why it’s important to thank them. This college being in one of the too-many states where telling the truth about race in America is being written into law as a crime, I invited them to sign the imaginary non-disclosure agreement. Of course, I was kidding, but by the end of class, it became clear that this is no laughing matter.
At any rate, on we went into the joyful playground of kids-level blues via the Cookie Jar game and by the end, they were all jamming on recorders or guitars or voices and looking like they sounded great. (Remember, this was online and all mikes were off.) At the end, in the comments, one of the students wrote:
“I have felt very disillusioned with things lately because of the state of the world, but this made me so happy.”
Which, of course, made me so happy.
But not for long. After the class, the teacher, a colleague I deeply love and respect, needed a listening ear about what she was going through in this state where the governonr had just outlawed Critical Race Theory in schools and instituted a “tipline” where parents can report any teaching that makes them or their children “uncomfortable,” with the consequence of the teacher being fired in this “right to work” state.
And the stories got worse. The decision that kids would now be allowed to go mask-less to school with a population of 55% vaccinated. That teachers are not allowed to question it and if they choose to stay home for fear of getting Covid and infecting a vulnerable elder parent, they would be let go. Alongside the mass hysteria of states trying to ban books, it’s clear that we are becoming China, Turkey and yes, Nazi, Germany. All in the name of “American values.”
Most heartbreaking of all was this teacher’s feelings about these young college students eager to become lifelong teachers entering the wasp’s nest of this toxic environment. What should she tell them, kids who are already disillusioned with the state of the world? At the end of the class when they felt the tonic of happiness and hope, should she and I tell them, “But why bother? No one cares about making kids happy, telling them the truth or helping them to actually think. They want you to lull them into obedient servitude and shut down all authentic feeling and thinking so the big boys can throw around their power and privilege and gleefully wreck the world.”
In the face of it all, my advice to future teachers? “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” We are the last hope of humanity, we who can keep hope lit in our bright-eyed wondrous students and if we give up now and let the nay-sayers win, we indeed are doomed. We are needed more than ever. So while you keep your own hope and happiness and playful selves glowing, even as a smoldering ember, gather your courage and resolve to keep the fire lit. We may go down, but we will go down fighting. Watch out, Ron Johnson. We are coming for your children.
* In a lame attempt to defend the epidemic move to strip away voting rights, McConnell said "Black Americans are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."