DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR ZIPCODE? You don't or probably not too much. The truth is, your zipcode determines your fate. It really matters where you live. It determines what opportunities are availbe to you, and, shapes your future. I was watching the PBS Nova epsidoe about Schools of the Future today, and they really hit that point home.
Kids who live in poverty have less opportunity thatn kids who don't.
Huge shock, right? We all understand this. We understand the impact of our address within the various cities and states in America, but also understand it on a global scale as well. If I were a woman born in Yemen, my life would be vastly different than the one I experience being born in a Northern California town. My address has shaped my opportunities.
One of my most beloved books, Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton states this of his beloved home, South Africa:
"Yes, there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together and work for it."
I love that quote. I was going back through my copy of Paton's book; the copy I used to teach out of when I taugth 9th grade -- it's got sentences like that underlined all over the place. It is hard to believe that it was published in 1952, just before Apartheid became law. It is harder still to belive that Paton wrote this wonderful, beautiful story as he tried to understand his nation, and then tucked it into a drawer; hiding it from the world. Good friends sent it to a publisher behind his back. They apologized profusely when the publisher made him an offer.
Paton was a school teacher, just like me. His early career was spent teaching the boys of the rich Dutch families of South Africa. However, he became bored with this. He wanted something deeper; something with greater meaning. He spent the second half of his career teaching the boys of Diepkloof Reformatory School. His work there carried so much meaning for him, and inspired him to write one of the best books I've ever read. He was struggling to understand how these two worlds, one of opportunity and one bereft of hope, could exist within his beloved South Africa.
We have the same problems here in America. How can it be that I can spend my Saturday driving my children to birthday parties, and to the park, while another mother somewhere in the same town, is trying to find a way to explain to her children that they are being evicted. It is difficult to fathom. How can it be acceptable that my son practices his cello, while another child somewhere else across town cowers from a closed fist? How can we turn a blind eye to those suffering within our nation; within our city and even within our own neighborhoods?
Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, an organization dear to my heart, has also struggled with this equation. How can we give all children a fair start? How can we close the gap between address and opportunity. His solution, a world-class on-line education that is FREE TO ALL, provides some stellar instruction for anyone willing to click on the screen. He was featured in the Nova piece I watched tonight and was why I was watching it. Khan Academy has been very good to my students, and so we keep it close to our hearts. I'm taking 90 students on a field trip next week, that is direct result of our connection to Khan Academy. This is an opportunity that my students would never have had -- if there weren't hard-working, intelligent people thinking about the gap in education. You've no idea how hard those folks at Khan Academy are working, and you should, but more than that, you should be aware of how hard they are working to level the playing field of your nation. It is a company born out of the hope. Sal Khan might be invited to some amazing destinations to meet with some really impressive people, but he made his start in his walk-in closet, desperate to encourage one little girl that ANYONE can learn math.
There is a very old saying "That when you save one life, you save the world entire." I like to extrapolate that thought out even further: When one child perishes, we all do. Lin-Manuel Miranda says in Hamilton, through his character, John Laurens, "Until we end slavery, we will never be free." He was speaking of American as a nation. I make the same empassioned plea: America can never truly be a great nation when we allow a portion of her citizens to recieve a substandard education. We must adhere to the belief that every child is our child, and must be loved, protected, cherished, and provided every opportunity. It is not just our children that we save, but our futures as well. It is painful to think that somewhere sleeping on the cold streets of our great nation, is a lonely, hungry child, who if given different opportunities could develop a mind great enough to end alzheimers, or cure cancer.
The only thing that held her back was her zipcode.