Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dreams from My Father

The Easter holiday period is a good chance to catch up on some reading. My eldest daughter handed on Barack Obama's 1995 memoir 'Dreams from My Father' which her boyfriend had read and given to her. I started reading it a month or so ago when I needed something to read on a long plane journey. Since then it's been sustained silent reading periods at school (we do three 20 minute SSR slots per week - I love it - a chance to read with the students - are you kidding?). I can't say it's a spectacular book but there are some good sections and his voice is definitely in the writing. I've posted a general response on my class blog already(http://purdzilla.blogspot.com).

I was really taken by a section he wrote on meeting teen mums at the Altgeld housing project in Chicago when he was an 'organiser' (ie he helped the community present their concerns and problems to the mostly disinterested authorities). The experience he tells of reminded me of meeting the teen mums we have at Stratford High School. he writes -

They spoke without self-consciousness about preganacy at 14 or 15, the dropping out of school, the tenuous links to the fathers who slipped in and out of their lives...They had mastered the tools of survival in their tightly bound world and made no apologies for it. They weren't cynical, though, that surprised me. They still had ambitions.

I really enjoy going into our teen parent unit and meeting our teen mums or teen mums to be. They are just as Barack Obama describes with one exception - our girls have the ability to continue their education. Last year they enjoyed real NCEA success and their dreams can be whatever they choose.

In another section of the book there is a section that startled me and made me think.Barack visits a primary school and talks with the principal. He sees a group of young students, 5 and 6 year olds.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Dr Collier (the Principal) said.
"They really are."
"The change comes later. In about 5 years, although it seems like it's coming sooner all the time."
"What change is that?"
"When their eyes stop smiling. Their throats can still make the sound, but if you look in their eyes, you can see they've shut off something inside."

Startling because I've taught a lot of teenagers over 25 years and I haven't experienced this too many times and the children Dr Collier is discussing are 10 or 11 years old. A sobering thought.

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