On Righteous Anger (Or, Being Seriously Pissed Off)

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk by Colman McCarthy, the author of I'd Rather Teach Peace and director of the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. This book inspired me when I was in graduate school, and McCarthy inspired me again yesterday, particularly when he read aloud Mother Teresa's "Meditations from a Simple Path," which is worth quoting in its entirety:


People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.
Be honest and transparent anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People who really want help may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.
Give the world your best anyway.

I left McCarthy's talk feeling affirmed about my commitments and work toward social justice and peace. Then I awoke this morning to an e-mail from the provost forwarded from my department chair, which was forwarded from the dean of my college. The original e-mail included a link to the YouTube clip called "2011 Mediocrity: 'Designers.'" That e-mail also said, "In my opinion, watching this video should be mandatory for anybody who has any interest in excellence."

Well, I watched the video, and the first thing that came to mind was, the last time I checked, education involved people, not cars. This first thought sparked the writing of an e-mail that appears below. I just sent that e-mail not only to my chair, dean, and the provost, but also to the new president of my aspiring-for-excellence university. My next action, when I can find the time and courage, is to create an Xtranormal animation that depicts an imagined conversation between a senior administrator and me about the relationship between excellence, equity, and neoliberal dictates. As McCarthy said yesterday, we will know we are working for an institution that supports peace-making when we have as many peace educators as engineering and mathematics educators.

And finally, my e-mail:

As someone who prioritizes equity--defined by Patton, Shahjahan, & Osei-Kofi (2010) as improving access and the removal of barriers to higher education for historically disadvantaged groups--as much as excellence, I find this video very troubling.

How can we address the significant issue that those K-12 students who are "waiting for Superman" (i.e. low-income students who are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities on account of ongoing pervasive institutionalized racism in the United States) do not have consistent, continuous access to robust learning opportunities in public educational institutions that would promote both their capacity for creativity and the cultivation of their talents since so much of their "learning" is scripted and rote? In other words, given many educational policymakers' emphasis on narrow forms of accountability--standardized test scores--and business-like solutions to human problems, particularly the reality that 1 in 4 U.S. children now lives in poverty, how can we make "excellence" a viable possibility for the majority of U.S. K-16 students? As Charles Payne (2008) wrote in So Much Reform, So Little Change, “To the extent that the problems [in urban schools] we are trying to solve are problems of connectedness, a strictly academic approach may not take us all the way” (p. 96).

I am for excellence but not in the absence of honest, substantive discussions about equity.