"Wow! Two kids in college!" Is a phrase I hear a lot these days. Yes, I have a rising senior daughter and a rising freshman son. I realize that this is meant as a compliment. The implication is that with so many wrong turns that could have been made, my children have "made it" past their primary and secondary school experiences, and that my husband and I have concocted the magic sauce that allowed for their success.
Am I proud of them? Of course! They both have taken different paths, but both have emerged as fine citizens, with healthy world views. They are intelligent communicators, have cultivated leadership through playing varsity and travel/club sports, and have been able to navigate past peer pressure. Yes, my husband and I were and are present and vocal through it all, and we have managed to keep them close. However, the fact that my two are in college, and away from home, is not as comforting as it should be.
You see, they are people of color. And that is a game-changer.
I have devoted my life's work to getting other young people to this very point. I teach at the elementary level, but have kept up with my students well beyond my classroom. I have attended their bar mitzvahs and homecoming games. I counsel them about their life goals and give feedback on college essays. I am their coach through many of life's challenges. This is part of who I am.
And yet, I am feeling uncertain about my own two. I no longer have the comfort of knowing where they are every minute of the day. For a parent of color, this is unsettling. I know that for all we have taught them about who they are, how to treat others, and how to protect themselves, it may not be enough. We are reminded continually of what can happen. And that, for many of us, is the reality that we live with.
Since my parenting informs my teaching, I am left to wonder how this, too, will manifest in my classroom. My evolution is demanding abandoning silence. As it cripples me, it cripples my charges. My students can affirm that I am not the teacher who claims to have all the answers. But saying nothing, skirting issues that affect all of us, is no longer acceptable.
I tell my students all the time that I will not ask them to do anything that I do not do myself. I thought that this was true, but it isn't. I ask them to take risks, yet I have few of those conversations with them. I expect them to care for one another and be a family, but I don't always push my colleagues to be better by questioning what we do and why. Pushing is ultimately an act of love. I'm not loving if I am afraid of discomfort.
I will do better. I must do better. My silence is my defeat. And theirs. And yours.