Chicago Poverty

EduShyster: A Chicago Teacher Mourns the Death of Yet Another Student

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A high school teacher in Chicago writes a guest post for EduShyster about a charming, charismatic student she calls Darrell.

Darrell was far behind in his school work. His attention was elsewhere. Darrell was murdered.

If Darrell had been born White and privileged, he would have been in the twelfth grade, ready to graduate from high school and move on to college. He would have been an entrepreneur, a politician. He was that charismatic, that magnetic. Peers gathered around him like steam over coffee. He had a sharp wit. He cracked up everyone he met, including his teachers. But because he was poor, lived in the hood, couldn’t read, and didn’t have the patience or inclination for formal education, Darrell used his talents in the ways that he could. Ways his teachers vainly protested, seeing the basic sweetness and goodness in this giant who seemed to us strangely vulnerable, despite his hulking frame and the $1000 in twenty dollar bills he regularly displayed, like a fan, when he couldn’t focus in class.

We, his teachers, knew how he got his money. We called his mother, expressing concern. But Darrell was caught up in something bigger than his block, more sinister than his gang and his guns and his drugs. He was stuck in the purgatory of hopeless, helpless poverty, whose victims know they’ll eventually end up in hell, but plan to enjoy the party while it lasts.

It’s a different thing, teaching the living dead. It’s a different thing to understand that you will likely outlive your students, praying that they’ll be jailed, just so they’ll still be drawing breath. It’s a different thing to see your students rocking guns and bags of drugs on their Facebook pages, the ones you stalk after they die. It’s a different thing to call and call and call and call a parent, and never get an answer, or to hear the parent kicking the crap out of the kid as you listen on the other end, or to hear the parent tell you, as a parent told me earlier this year, that she had no idea where her child even was—a young man in a similar situation to Darrell. Not for that moment or that hour, but for six months.

It’s a different thing when your own peers don’t get why you teach students like these, why you love their infectious enthusiasm, their humor, their undying spirits, the respect they show you when you treat them like human beings.

Do reformers understand hopelessness? They certainly don’t understand teachers like this one. They blame her for Darrell’s poverty and his academic failure. Why?

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