Open Letter to Students,
I reached through the darkness of my bedside dresser at 2 a.m this morning and felt around for my phone. I wanted to see something that made the last few hours feel like a dream. I wanted to see that my candidate won and the other one lost. After months of hateful speech, an angry campaign, and a divided country, I wanted to have some re- assurance that things would be normal this morning.
Instead, I saw this: “Trump on the Precipice of Electoral College Victory.” My heart sank. But this is a letter to students. And as much as I may want to vent or be frustrated about something, I am reminded of the primary reason I do this job. This is not about me. Teaching, the job that I love and have given so much of my life to, was never about me.
This is about you.
My mind keeps circling to the quote that sits on the board in front of my room from Dead Prez, a rap duo from the late 90s and early 00s. The quote says, “In the real world, these just people with ideas.” I always tell you that it is that simple. English class, for all of the reading and textual evidence and writing essays, is really just about being able to form ideas that help. Ideas that help you. Ideas that help the people around you. Ideas that help your family and your future children. And ideas that make our society more inclusive, kind, loving, and caring.
In short, I teach English because I want you to be good at forming ideas.
I wish I could say adults were leading by example. Yes, one could argue that the man that will be the 45th president of the United States is the result of a bunch of ideas. I, however, would respond that yesterday was an example of fear. An emotion that I hope never drives the decisions that each of you make. Yesterday, when nearly 60 Million Americans (a rough estimate) cast their ballots for Donald Trump, I can’t help but think that some folks were casting a ballot out of fear. Fear of other races, religions, genders, sexualities, countries, beliefs and intentions. Fear that they were losing safety and security, jobs and money, and their pride in what they believe America should represent. I suppose, to be fair, fear drove some votes on both sides.
Fear is a powerful emotion, but I submit to each of you that it should never be the emotion that generates ideas. Ideas, at least the ones that I hope you are learning to form, should come from something much more complete, powerful, and beautiful than fear.
I hope that your ideas come from love.
I don’t mean to sound like some washed-up hippie who is screaming love at you from the front of a classroom. You are something like young adults, or at least close to young adults, and you have the right to make the decisions that you want to make for you, your family, you neighbors, and your city. I simply mean to suggest that love is a more powerful driving emotion than fear. How much different would our world be if the only thing that moved us to action was love? Love for our children would make us care for them and build them up. Love for our parents would make us support them and honor them. Love for our neighbor, especially our neighbor that is struggling, would drive us to help them get on their feet. Love for our city would make us see each member of our society as equally important, so our decisions would be for the greater good instead of only our own good. And love for the world around us would help us to see that our shared humanity is far more binding than our man-made differences like race and religion.
The reason I love English class is that I believe it helps to make you thinkers. You have to be thinkers so that you don’t believe the fear speech. Your biggest enemy is not the “other.” It is not the police, or the other religion, or the other race, or the other sexuality. Your biggest enemy is yourself. Your biggest enemy is the temptation to believe that you can’t do it. Your biggest enemy is giving in to the people in the world that tell you that fear is a reason not to love.
Please, be better than we have been for you. Get to the table of power and bring a voice of reason, love, and joy. Form ideas based in love.
And don’t forget to smile.