Empowerment and Disempowerment in Our Schools

I’ve been thinking a great deal about knowledge, power, and happiness. From knowledge of inequities, I have always been motivated to move – since I was a little girl. Teaching seemed a natural choice. People have told me time and again how challenging that career path is, how political it is, how you must hold onto the small amounts of change you create, as they are just as important as the monumental ones. As a young person, I thought I understood much of the system, as many young people think. But, after working for over seven years within the system, and after taking this course and gaining an even deeper understanding of inequities, I feel as though I have more knowledge and even less power.

The life I was given and the path I have walked is heavily influenced by my family and friends. We are primarily white middle-class people from the suburbs of Minnesota. I had a great education, though I have struggled for many years with mental illness as a result of several traumatic factors in my history. When I started at Takoda Prep, I thought I would be able to relate to the students more than any other young white woman. It did not take me long to realize the trauma I faced and the trauma they face are different, even though we manifested our trauma in similar ways. This has helped me connect with them, but it also causes me to reflect upon ways in which I am helpless to help them. Furthermore, my knowledge on policies and inequities causes me disillusionment. So many times, people have tried to change the system, and so many times people have failed. My once hopeful and optimistic outlook has since been damaged as a result from students being locked up for gun violence, a homeless encampment that has encroached onto the grounds of our school, and most recently because of the loss of a former student to an opioid overdose. Beyond this small space of our community school, I am further disillusioned by the total lack of power I have to change anything. I would love to get more involved in policy and lobbying. I would leap at the change to sit down with a lawmaker to urge them to take action for my students in ways I cannot. These opportunities, however, are few and far between.

At the same time, nights turn into new days and I keep pushing on. I see the Voices for Change, and I see that I can be one too. Though I’m personally pulled to become a mother, I am also still personally pulled to make change in schools. The trick is, how do people do it all? Would I still want to teach if I hadn’t even known about inequities in the first place? After all, ignorance is bliss. This course has been so crucial in adding to my knowledge on policy and social justice. Yet, I now am ready to move to action. I must seek out the tools necessary to become a Voice for Change. I don’t know what is to come in the next few years, and I am not going to plan it all out. I will not, however, give up on fighting for empowerment of young people and for myself.