We have a mandate to leave no child behind,
Yet we are educating children not left behind,
But left to die, escaping with their families and their lives,
The clothes on their backs and a lifetime of images they want to forget.
So we attempt to educate them–
‘educate’from the Latin-‘to lead out’
Lead out from terror, away from want,
weariness and war.
Away from fear, their homeland torn beyond recognition.
Lead them to America,
where we shout “welcome!” and expect them to be,
Somehow, just like our children.
Expect them to forget the hell they’ve seen,
ask them to ignore the obvious (they are alive!)
Expect them to observe the rules,
sit in our chairs, be quiet,
Raise our voices when they don’t understand,
hand out warnings at their laziness and lack of discipline,
shake our heads that they are so behind.
And all along inside, they’re saying,
“Thank you for the clean water
and the toilets in the school.
Thank you for the windows in my classroom,
the grass at lunchtime,
the daily food and a place to
Stand in the sun away from bullets.”
“Thank you for the pencils, this paper, that is mine.
for this ‘picnic’, (for surely it must seem to them!)
This safe place of freedom
To play and laugh without fear
Regain some of my childhood spent in the dark
behind doors and walls.
Thank you for not having to hide, be quiet, be not-me
But be who I am, free in America.
As to my education—that can wait.
Right now I’m just trying to live.”
When I first was hired by our school district 5 years ago my position was as Tchg. Assistant for English Language Learners. In our county in Washington there are a large amount of students from Ukraine, India, Asia and many countries in Africa.
This poem was prompted by my experience with a Middle Schooler who was an Iraqi refugee, when I realized there is MUCH we do in teaching that has nothing whatsoever with education.
Sharing with the folks over at Tweetspeak Poetry celebrating ‘Poetry at Work’ Day–January 15th. Link on over there for more inspiration.(i’m a little early)