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Response to Part 9 Classrooms, Pedagogy, and Practicing Justice

ByHÉCTOR CALDERÓN

In the fall of 1991 I had been hired at El Puente as the senior tutor of a new educational program. The program was designed to help students improve their reading, writing, and math skills. With a team of fi ve tutors, I assisted members of El Puente with their homework, tests, reports, and any other school-related tasks. On one particularly hot, agonizing summer day, just before the mandated RCT and Regents exams, a member walked in and collapsed on a chair as if her knees had given way to the weight of her frustrations. She propped her chin in her hands and began in a soft but desperate voice to spill her guts: “Why do we have to take tests? Who the hell invented school? What’s the point of all these classes? Why are my teachers so boring?” I tried to offer some hollow words of comfort. “Well, you know, that if you don’t pass these tests or do well in your classes, you can’t graduate. And if you don’t graduate, you can’t apply to college. And if you don’t go to college, you can’t….” “But what the hell is the point, school has nothing to do with me,” she hollered at me. “Is this the way it’s going to be, me doing crap I don’t care about in order to ‘make it.’ Nah, I don’t think so, this ain’t for me. I wanna fi nd my soul.” Her words made me stop dead in my tracks. I had rehearsed and spoken my words of advice a million times before. But today, Yesenia had made me pause. Yesenia’s words resonated with my own private quest and really, a collective quest we all share to make meaning of our existence and of our world. That day, I realized that institutions of learning never address the question of the soul-the essence of a human being. They pontifi cate about a prescribed course of life, which is devoid of meaning, in order to achieve “success.” And unfortunately everybody plays the role, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and me, with my “pithy” words of advice.