Ghosts in the Water

Ghosts? Really now?

I am way too rational to believe in that stuff. Proof is necessary if I’m to tremble.

Nonetheless, a spirit does haunt me.

For some time now, Beloved has wandered my margins. As in the novel, Toni Morrison’s wisp is restless, long for everything and nothing at all, really, quite so very very impatient. Arising from a stream behind the house of my consciousness, Beloved’s larynx whispers dark, sharded notions of an American history, long gripped pale. Her voice seems to spring of an ethereal world, a place that adjudicates the contested truths of human history — and so, like justice, her voice roams, shards conjuring themselves from sitting and resting, into longing.

Tired and impatient, she channels so very many things. To me, an urban educator. Urban violence — where darker youth annihilate darker youth — cannot be understood in long pale ways, where proof outweighs the truth of story. Poverty, its sharded voice measuring against the din, much the same. And, about our urban youths’ struggles with learning, well, she has had much to say…

Deep and profound learning begins within each human narrative. However young that narrative may be. Public education shall cut no young voice, she whimpers: public education must develop a curricular notion of itself whereby each young voice is engaged, heard, honored — then challenged to go beyond. Public learning, Beloved whispers, frantic in her search for language, cannot only march toward some sort of  empirical rendering of itself — it must also engage that human story of the learner, however pale or dark.

Today, Beloved sees, society has conjured urban education’s structures into so little engagement: our young are marched and marched further and further away from engagement into the distant illusion of numbers telling society all that education is. The march carries well into the learner’s adolescence, not a good developmental time for forced marches. Not surprisingly, while on the march, so many, many adolescents feel that lack of engagement (catching me off-guard with an empiricist twist, she interjects, “freshmen on-track-to-graduate and high school dropout statistics?”), rejecting not only the march, but core educational and societal structures themselves. Often, this lack of engagement is felt deeply. Very deeply. And, even, violently — which provides ‘nother set of numbers.

On the other hand, Beloved pines, to engage each story, affirming its place in the world, is to open the next stage of profound learning, curiosity. Curiosity beyond oneself. Curiosity about other places in the world. Other people. Other ideas. Other histories. Indeed, other perspectives. From engaged curiosity, profound learning can emerge.

“America,” she ends, always in the same way, “please don’t expect less of urban youth; simply e-n-g-a-g-e more.”

“All water has a perfect memory
and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”
– Toni Morrison
(from Rita Dove’s Grace Notes)