“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.”
– Tupac Shakur
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
I recently read Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade’s “Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete”. It is a rather inspirational piece, and if you listen to his TED Talk, you can get the gist of his message. I do not tend to err on the side of being emotional, so I am always a little leery of over-inspirational pieces. But, as inspiring as I found Duncan-Andrade’s piece, I also found it challenging. I think it is imperative to utilize the understanding of writings such as these to evaluate and reflect on our own practice and our own theories, and I’d like to share some specific takeaways for me, as an individual and as an educator, in relation to this piece.
Hope is Imperative
I tend to be rather analytical, observing issues from multiple perspectives and noticing the interconnections between views. It is true that this sort of critical thinking can also seem rather hopeless. When we realize the gravity of issues, ideas of change or positive pieces of the puzzle can seem rather pale, or even outside of the picture altogether. Duncan-Andrande did a nice job of explaining how false hopes actually contribute to hopelessness. He identifies these hopes as Hokey Hope, Mythical Hope, and Hope Deffered. What I liked about this piece is that is was clear what each of these kinds of hope were, they were defined as follows:
Hokey Hope (p.182-183)
A hope in which an outsider views the evidence and determines that all things can be overcome by working hard and paying attention. It reminded me starkly of the Protestant work ethic–regardless of the situation, one can pull herself up by her bootstraps and make a dream come true. However, this sort of “hope” disregards all of the disadvantages into which different individuals are born into, and thus, proposes a solution that does not always solve the deep rooted inequities individuals face.
Mythical Hope (p.183-184)
A hope that claims no sincere issues exist within our society. Issues of gender, class, race, and ability have been long put to rest. A clear example of this hope is the belief that racism does not exist post-Obama’s election.
Hope Deffered (p.184-185)
And here’s where I was blind-sided, a little.
This hope, to me, is the sneakiest of them all, and if I am entirely honest, I feel that I have recently grown “beyond” this view. This view is smart enough to avoid blaming the victim, but it is hopeless in that in blames systems for the issues in our world. It is content to know that there are systemic issues, but believes that these issues cannot be tackled within education or that these issues do not influence pedagogy.
Teachers can’t fix all the world’s problems, you know.
Right. I get it. But why does that sound so, terrible to say out loud?
Because it’s a complacent view. It’s a view that says, I do not need to ignite change, in fact, I can’t. It’s a view that, to me, feels so incredibly antithetical to the messages teachers are often encouraged, and often do, tell their students — each person matters, you can make a difference, you can change the world, your actions influence others.
And, so, I get it, we have to realize that we can’t go parading and changing the world in dramatic, over-the-top ways every day, sure. BUT. We have to care, too. It is not enough to tell each individual they matter and make a difference, and yet not let that penetrate our lives enough to transform our pedagogy and keep us reflecting on how to contribute to a better tomorrow.
Because when we are okay with being complacent, we contribute to hopelessness in this world.
So, what’s the right kind of hope?
Duncan-Andrade does not leave us with the hopelessness of the false hopes, rather, he offers a model that he calls “Critical Hope”, which he describes as “The enemy of hopelessness.”
This critical hope is overwhelmingly selfless. It proposes a deep interconnection between student success and teacher success. It requires that educators actively struggle against the inhibitors to student success. It is made of three elements: material hope, Socratic hope, and audacious hope. Each of these are explained as follows:
Material Hope requires that educators make what they teach relevant to the students they are teaching. This requires that teachers know and understand their students and communities. It requires understanding culture, and the strengths and obstacles of each individual student. It requires a flexibility of the teacher to teach what is necessary for the student body, given varying circumstances. The teacher, himself, is a material resource for the students, and in this role, the teacher has strong influence (p. 186-187).
Socratic Hope requires that educators painfully examine themselves, students, and the variety of forces at work. It takes time to be honest, to admit personal and professional failure and devote to change and growth. This kind of hope requires the rejection of complacency (p. 187-188).
Audacious Hope requires that we work together. That we reject preservation of the privileged, and instead, share the burden of undeserved suffering to work toward collective healing (p.189 – 190).
So what does this mean?
I think, for me, on a practical level, I feel challenged to demonstrate love for all people. I saw a great quote earlier this week, it read, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. It deeply resonated with me.
I come from a disadvantaged background. My friends know the complexity of my upbringing and my closed culture. And even still, I never quite understood the importance of community until I became an adult. I never quite realized how important we all are for one another–for our well-being, for the good of all people–for the happiness of the world.
And all of this reminds me, that, there is hope. But, sometimes it starts with us. It starts when we put our theory into practice. It starts when we are a little kinder, a little more humble, and a little less complacent. It’s a great deal of work, yes.
Which brings us back to the beginning–“you can’t pour from an empty cup”.
Most of my fellow peers argued that teachers cannot do it all. They cannot exhaust themselves in order to save the world. True, this is much too large of an endeavor for simply one person. But, I also think this kind of thinking can be taken too far where we are complacent. We are okay with failure. We forget to critically evaluate our own practices and beliefs and we are then, unwilling to change ourselves.
And, so we must have some sort of balance. A drive that is unwilling to be content with failure, and yet a buffer of an approach to failure as a way to learn and better ourselves. For this to work, we have to be sure we truly find our work meaningful.
We have to be sure what we’re doing really fills our cups–it should energize us, wake us up, fuel our practice. To do that, we must really believe in what we do. I mean really believe in what we do–take risks, advocate, give up the ease of remaining stagnant.
Through this, I am learning the balance of critical hope. I’m seeing how incredibly precious it is to hold on hope, and I’m dedicated to growth for a better tomorrow. Together, we can heal from past and present hurts, and together we can love for a better tomorrow.
Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade (2009) Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete. Harvard Educational Review: July 2009, Vol. 79, No. 2, pp. 181-194.