April 14, 2006


Being Part of the Teachable Moments

By Ernie McCray

I sure hope we educators are serious with all our talk about the “teachable moments” inherent in thousands upon thousands of students hitting the streets  protesting immigration proposals in Congress that would make felons out of people who enter our country without permission. Many of our students are among this population.

So with that in mind I hope the teachable moments in the protests aren’t presented in the manner in which we’ve taught the teachable moments in the War in Iraq. I mean we’ve tip toed and tap danced around this war with way too much emphasis on being “balanced” and “fair.” And as a result there are tons of kids who don’t have a clue that this armed conflict has defied common sense and international laws that were designed to prevent one nation from knocking the chip off the shoulder of another nation that didn’t have any chips on its shoulders in the first place. So they go on with their lives without having looked into a situation that will dog their futures as citizens of the planet for as long as they shall live. They deserve much less “objectivity” and far more “actuality.”

But, hey, as it relates to immigration we’ve got a golden opportunity right now to do it right. The kids are already out there, learning on their own in the American Way. Finding out what democracy is all about. Waving flags. Making speeches. Talking on the radio and on tv, constructing a new civil and human rights movement for all the world to see.

The best we educators and other brands of grownups can do now to help meet the learning needs of these young people is find a spot to jump in. And jump. And ride the exciting energy they’ve already created.

Along these lines, I wish every educator in existence could have experienced the César Chávez Memorial Parade I marched in the other day - just to sense a people’s pride in their heritage, just to hear one’s feet moving along the street in step with those who feel that all people should be valued, that all people should have a voice. Oh, what a sight to have seen.

Our destination was an important place in San Diego’s history: Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Each step we took conjured up memories in my mind of the late 60’s and early 70’s when people fought to wrest that parcel of land from those who wanted it for the California Highway Patrol. But the people, most of them descendants of Mexico, won this political battle. And where parking lots full of black and white police cars might have been there are outstanding colorful murals that have made the park known around the world for its contemporary art.

I couldn’t help but remember how those struggles brought a community together but the struggle continues. And the people are back together again. With a whole lot of friends. So when I next meet with a group of students I will, since I like to make lessons personal whenever I can, share with them the spirit of those moments.

In particular, I’ll try to find the words to express how it felt walking underneath I-5, a little short of Chicano Park as our rhythmic chants of: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Sí, se puede!” reverberated off the walls of the underpass like some unworldly super surround sound. Those powerful echoes settled in our souls and stimulated our sense of justice and fair play.

Having recently revisited the movie “A Day Without a Mexican” which humorously highlights how dependent we are, as a nation, on Latino labor, I will help students explore ways they can help bring about legislation that is respectful of people who simply desire to feed themselves and their familes.

And I will encourage every educator I can reach to venture into the next march or parade or rally regarding immigration. Such settings are like educational workshops in which one can discover a range of fine nuances and brilliant perspectives that can give relevancy to the teachable moments they bring to their classrooms.

Could there be anything more hopeful than educators and students building a better world together? No. And I’d dare say: Sí, se puede.

Ernie McCray is a retired educator.

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