Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Post In Which I Own My Prejudice.

I had two different groups of participants to facilitate this past week. The first were a group of high school peer leaders (seniors) from New Brunswick, NJ, where 400 students began in their class and just 175 will graduate in June. The second were from a wealthy private school in Manhattan. The first group was at my place of work to get stuff done; they chose their co-leaders for the year on day two of three. The ninth grade Manhattanites were in Blairstown to "bond."

When New Brunswick left, I knew each and every name, and the colleges they were applying to. I knew where they worked after-school, what got on their nerves, who had a tendency to lead and who to follow.

Of the second group, I couldn't tell you names. Didn't retain the neighborhoods, save one Hoboken and one Spanish Harlem in the bunch. The girls were nice, but easily distracted. They're young, 14. They also have been to more foreign countries (mine: 0), go on vacation every summer, attend camp for weeks on end, and prefer salad to fast food. Most of them. Some are on scholarships, but overall these girls were a challenge for me.

I didn't grow up poor. I was in the upper-middle class in the suburbs of D.C., living in a house that was practically palatial. But we bought our piano used from the neighbors down the street. We grew our own vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries. I split wood with a sledgehammer and bomb, for crying out loud! Prince George's County, MD was (is?) the capital of Afro-American wealth in the States. White flight led to being half-white when I was six and 85% black by the time we moved when I was 16. I relate more to the kids who came in the beginning of the week, minority-majority students who often needed to overcome gang and drug culture from D.C. as their families escaped into the suburbs.

I went to schools where the stalls could be looked over, where there were parenting classes for the teen mom's-to-be, where a student once had her head bashed in by a sink behind my high school.

And so, even though I'm sporting a hipster scarf like the Manhattanites, and faced few obstacles to graduating high school, applying for then atttending college, I don't feel the same as those girls. I feel jealous, angry, unsophisticated, and befuddled: how do I challenge you? What are your struggles? And how do I help you get something out of experiential education?

A question I'm working on answering at the moment.

To be fair, October through May I will be working in my schools with our Primary Service Population, "underserved urban youth," who are the groups who I find easier a repor with.

I've experienced racism as a white person, and it wasn't fair, it didn't feel good (though I'm happy I've had the experience of being a minority, if it makes sense). It's not fair to pass that prejudice on to my own pale students now. It's not appropriate, logical, or productive.


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