Yesterday afternoon I joined the Bowling Book Club, an after-hours gathering for students of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, guided by 2016 WA State Teacher of the Year, Nathan Gibbs Bowling.
Teachers and students sat down together to talk about the Fair Housing Act through the lens of the book Living Apart by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Teachers mostly listened as students led the discussion. To say these young people impressed me would be a gross understatement.
They spoke eloquently about American politics and society over the last fifty years. They filled the room with humor and humility through delicate topics of segregation, equity, and institutional racism. They remained respectful in moments of tension.
Meanwhile, my mind wandered to my own high school social studies classes. I imagined myself as a student at Lincoln High today.
“Not everybody has a Bowling.” A student’s voice snapped me back to reality. She said exactly what I was thinking.
How few high school students dig into books like Living Apart, or Anthem by Ayn Rand? How many adults have ever grappled with, or even heard of, these texts? Are those “without a Bowling” responsible for understanding the depths of issues they’ve never had space to explore? This question continually plagues me--in a million different contexts with a million different details.
The rest of the afternoon’s conversation centered on this idea of responsibility. Education is opportunity. It demands responsibility. To act. To share what we’ve learned. To move the conversation forward.
This year I am walking an inner journey much like the one that the students traveled yesterday. I have been given the space to question, think, process, reflect, listen, read, research, and see. I’ve learned how to have a public voice for students. I have a platform from which to project that voice. I’ve found partners in the issues I care most about. I understand the scope of education far beyond my classroom walls.
I expected to go back to life as I know it when this year was over. I didn’t realize the experience would change me. Educate me. Inspire me. Compel me. Now I have a head full of ideas, for my school, my community, my state. I also have little patience for bringing others up to speed. I want to do, NOW!
In the final question of the day, Mr. Bowling asked the group about this responsibility. What did it mean going forward? As I reflected on the students in front of me, I realized responsibility requires more than just honesty and courage. Opportunity demands empathy.
The teachers in the room yesterday understood it. They sat back quietly, letting student voices fill the room with questions and suggestions. The students understood it. They treated each other with respect and grace, and the group moved forward together.
Not everybody has a Bowling.
We must be aware of the experiences, opportunities, and background knowledge that inform our perspective. We must be sensitive to how our situation differs from that of the people around us. We must be brave enough to be honest, and honest enough to be gracious.