Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I heart Jonathan Kozol...

Forgot to mention this, but the other day I had the chance to hear Jonathan Kozol speak- which was, duh, positively amazing and I almost cried. It was a really big thing for me because Kozol's work has been such a huge, huge influence on my life.

See, when I was a kid, my mom had a very cool way of dealing with my being a brat. I didn't really get punished, I got "perspective." If I made a big deal about cleaning my room, she'd put pictures on my wall of the bombings in Kosovo or someplace else, or of parapalegics, or an article about a homeless family- people who would like to have a room to clean, or like to be able to clean a room (so maybe I should just shut the hell up). When I didn't want to do homework, or was otherwise acting bratty, out came the Jonathan Kozol books. Amazing Grace, Savage Inequalities, Death at a Young Age, etc. etc. We'd sit at the kitchen table, and she'd read aloud to me about kids my own age who had to do their school work in between taking care of a parent with AIDS. Who didn't have nice school books, and nice quiet, encouraging places to come home to. Who couldn't play in the local parks because they were filled with junkies and littered with needles. And they were so, so fucking sad that, well, sometimes, at that age, I admit it was torture to listen to them.

But I'm glad I did. I am ultimately more grateful for that than any of the things my parents were able to give me. More than any Christmas presents, I remember the fact that my parents spent half the Christmas money on us, and gave the other half to children in need. More than I loved the beautiful house on the lake in Plymouth that I grew up on until I was five and that my parents designed themselves, I love the fact that my parents let struggling families live there for practically nothing so their children could go to a good school in the area, and have a nice place to come home to. In short, my parents are amazingly cool people who practice what they preach.

I grew up being aware of my own privilege, of every privilege I had that other children did not, and understanding that it was wrong and must change. And that has made every difference in my life.

I got to talk to Mr. Kozol after his speech, and I told him about my mother who idolizes him and how she read his books to me when I was young so I'd understand, and I told him about Rochester and the ridiculous inequalities there concerning the suburban public schools vs. the city schools (which, at one point, either did or were going to have to go down to four days a week- this was around the time I was moving so I don't recall), how we campaigned for the county to become one school district to even things out, and blabbered on about other things that I don't even remember because I was so nervous.

But can I just say- I have never, ever, in my life met any sort of well known person who was that genuinely nice? I mean, he took down my phone number, and gave me his, and said that when I'm done with Columbia I should think about going to Cambridge and working for this organization he's getting started there. Which I just may do. I think I need to get back to that. I think retail is eating my soul.


Pas Faux said...

" Hey, I've got a great Idea, let's teach our child to be socially conscious with the use of her untidy room."

I hope you are being dramatic about the pictures that were hung on your bedroom walls. Children and most people only understand choices and not perspective. Images of horrific things do not paraphrase to "clean up your room." I don't believe anyone would actually believe this would be an acceptable way to discipline a child. In any case it didn't work.No one should be forced to associate "clean up your room" with" or look at carnage." You certainly would not even have the capacity to understand perspective at that age if this is true. Its close to attempting to discipline a pet hours after it is naughty. It or you will not be able to put two and two together, which should be painfully obvious to a well adjusted,balanced adult. You express your understanding that there was two different brands of perspective when you were a child my dear by bringing this up in your writing ;twice that I know of, for a reason and not the reason that you will admit to. Why couldn't you find a straight, female , atheist pro to talk to this about that will not offer you an answer measured in milligrams. A great book on perspective is tiled " Do we know who we are? by Arnold M. Ludwig ." It' even provocative . I would bet anything you would like it though I have been dead wrong before of course. I am convinced it will serve a positive purpose unlike "having your nose rubbed in Kosovo."

Serendipity to all
The real anonymous

Miss Robyn said...

Um, I don't need to "talk to anyone." I'm quite mentally healthy, actually- primarily as a result of the way I was raised.

I'm not being dramatic at all- and I do think that my mother was absolutely freakin' brilliant for raising me in this way and for doing the things that she did. I was lucky- other children had to actually live through that shit, I just saw pictures and read books. In that way, I was *immensely* privileged. And I was aware of that privilege from an early age.

Also, lots of kids watched violent television shows or cartoons or movies for entertainment purposes. I wasn't allowed to. Thus the difference in my understanding of violence and war vs. those of other people.

I understand that the idea of this is extremely upsetting to most people. Especially people brought up in the 80's and afterwards with the whole "Oh, you're totally special and your minor problems are so significant and deep that you need a shrink to figure them out!" attitude towards child rearing. If I say I'm not special, it means that you might not be. If I recognize my privilege it means you might have to do the same. If I don't think I need a shrink because there are days when I'm not exuberantly happy and sometimes things don't go completely right, then maybe your problems aren't all that significant either, in the grand scheme of things. It's a terrifying thought for some people.