Those of you who are television fans might remember the "sweat hogs" in Gabe Kaplan's sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter." These incorrigible teens (a young John Travolta leading their pack) showed America what I thought was an exaggerated version of the high school classroom. Then I got my first job as a high school English teacher. Granted, I knew what I was getting into, as I was the eighth teacher to attempt to teach these classes (one teacher actually ran out screaming in the middle of class), but those first few weeks were brutal.
I dealt with drugs, vulgar language, graffiti etched into my walls, and attempted arson, or some might say murder, when Joe tried to set the girl next to him on fire. I handled it all like a pro, until they all refused to stand for the flag. For some reason, that was the proverbial straw that broke my idealistic teacher's back. They were slouched there, talking over the pledge, and I lost my cool. I never really raised my voice, but the intensity of my emotions stopped their chatter. I explained what the flag represented and the number of people who died defending it. I told them that they were lucky to live in a country of choice, and in my classroom they didn't have to pledge allegiance, but if they couldn't stand to show respect for their country, then what exactly would they respect. Tears actually ran down my frustrated face, and they all just stared in disbelief. Interestingly enough, they all did stand for the flag in the days that followed.
Today, quite a few years have passed, and I want to give football player, Colin Kaepernick, a similar speech. I want to tell him I understand his frustration and support his search for a change in a broken system. I want to join him in his fight for equal rights and equal treatment for all people. I want him to understand that his status as an athletic figure puts him in a unique position to lead young people in a much needed change. He can speak to auditoriums filled with teens and encourage them to show respect, and he can talk with auditoriums filled with police officers and encourage them to show the same respect for our "innocent until proven guilty" system. He can be a role model. I want to tell him that our flag is not representing the bad that our country offers, and outwardly disrespecting it is counterproductive.
I also want to tell him, that because of what it does represent...because of those that did die protecting what it represents...he has every right to take the knee rather than stand, and with tears once again streaming down my face, I will stand behind his choice.
Speaking of high school classrooms, the first book I reviewed this week is To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite. This memoir, originally written in 1959, is as timeless as the actions and attitudes of the young people it portrays. The author talks about his first teaching job in London, and we watch as he teaches these incorrigible young people the importance of respect for themselves and others. This is my second reading of this book. I read it many years ago, and I found it helpful in forming my own teaching strategies.
The next book I read, Karolina's Twins by Ronald H. Balson, was one of those books you never forget. Lena, an elderly holocaust survivor, comes to attorney Catherine and asks for her help. Lena made a promise to her friend Karolina, when they were both very young women, and she needs help fulfilling it. Catherine and her husband(and investigator), Liam, agree to help, and much of the book is Lena's story of her years in Poland during the horrors of WWII. The history woven into this incredible tale is amazing, and the legal side- story keeps us in the present as we read about the past. This is the third book in which Balson weaves history into the lives of Catherine and Liam, and I can't wait to see where he goes from here.
As always, full reviews of these two books follow this blog.