I’m beaming looking at this photo. This is me with Ms. Breitman, my seventh-grade English teacher. Ms. Breitman is someone who has seen me through many a lunch hour, one memorable detention, and lots of adolescent tears. In college and adulthood, I’ve come back to her for advice on everything from political engagement to moving in with a partner. She’s stuck by me almost my entire life, and every time I see her I’m reminded that education isn’t grades or career or failure and success but community, passion, commitment, and care.
Today, I got to visit Ms. Breitman’s school and talk to the kids about things I care about—democratic values, poetry, and the links between the United States and Latin America. I was blown away by the students’ thematic and text-to-text connections. One student commented how it was interesting that José Martí wrote Versos sencillos in the Catskill Mountains, not far from where Sam lives in Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. I’ve always wanted students to see José Martí not as other, but as integral to the story of North America, of landscapes like that of the Hudson Valley, and I was so glad that this student made the connection on his own. Another student told me about Mateo in Margarita Engle’s Silver People, and how this character used writing to advocate for change, just like José Martí. They told me without prompting that José Martí’s story reminded them of what happened between the thirteen colonies and King George. I want to remember every question and comment, because each one pushed me to think, and helped me make the leaping connections, the links between different texts and different worlds that make reading so worthwhile.
Visiting this school filled me with warmth and hope. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about care, which is to say about passion, idealism, and commitment, values that I believe are central both to arts and to education. I’ve been thinking about these values because as José Martí observed, we live in a culture that can sometimes gravitate towards self-interest, that hints that care is a thing of childhood to be cast aside in adulthood. It’s an environment that can make it difficult to find real depth and meaning, but at Washington Latin everyone I met cared. The school reminded me of the incredible gift that my own education has been, of how lucky I am to have had teachers like Ms. Breitman, to have been a part of quirky educational communities that brimmed with care, and how grateful I am to teachers today who continue to foster these communities.
Thank you for having me, Washington Latin!