Looking Out the Window and Seeing Someone Look Back

As if teaching and working on a start-up was not demanding enough, I’m currently taking an online course through the Johns Hopkins School of Education on Introduction to Global Urban Education. Anyone who knows me should know how exciting a course like this would make me, as it combines my passions of international comparative education and urban education. Our first assignment was very creative and allowed me to sit and think about the frightening dichotomies that are abundant in Miami. We had to write about what we see when we look outside our window. So I decided to write a piece on the differences between the window of my home in Miami Beach and the window of my classroom in Liberty City. After I had written, one of the professors, and a founder of Teachers Without Borders, for the course had actually taken the time to read my response and reply to it, and I wanted to include both here on my blog.


Contrasts in Miami Windows

Windows in Miami are huge. They are the bay windows that span the length of an entire wall of a room. Wait…Correction. Windows in Miami are huge and beautiful and long only if you live where there is no need to put bars on your window for fear of a stray bullet or passing burglar. 


My life in Miami is a life of contrasts. Looking out my windows–the window of my apartment and the window of my schoolroom–do not escape that dichotomy. Looking out the window of my 4th floor apartment condo on Miami Beach, I see gorgeous palm trees, an Olympic size swimming pool, the high rises of Mid Beach and South Beach, and I know on the other side of them, just a two blocks walk for me, is the Atlantic Ocean. It’s beautiful. Backed by painted white clouds and a blue in the sky that you could stare at for days. 


But then again, Miami is a city of contrats. It’s a city where you can be in the most glamorous and glitzy part of America one second and 15 minutes later be in one of the roughest neighborhoods this side of the Mason Dixon Line. Where you can go to work in Downtown while crossing a bridge that goes over the once historic and flurousing but now depleted Overtown. Then there’s the causeway. The causeway crosses the bay and links the world of Miami Beach to the mainland just across the JFK Causeway that welcomes you with early morning prostitutes and garbage everywhere. Abandoned buildings and businesses to make you feel as though you are going where no one else wants to be and where those who were there flee. And what do I see outside my classrom window? I see part of the other side of the building–aged cream streaked with years of not being washed, resembling that of a state penitentiary from the tall spiked gates in the front to the herding of children into particular spots. I see the isolated road where policemenet patrol to make sure that no danger comes inside the school. And it does. Code Red is not a drill out there, and as I look at that window I know that danger lies rampant in the community. Others have written of hope, but this is a place where my students tell me they don’t believe they can make it out of. So this is a place that when you look out the window you really have to practice growing roses from concrete. And then I see it. The community garden others have planted out back, and I remember. Roses from concretes is just what we do here as teachers who live the contrasts each day, crossing the causeways between two worlds, trying to find out exactly where our place is within our community of work. 

Professor’s Response

Jane Goodall’s passion is her youth group, “Roots and Shoots.”  The name evokes green breaking through concrete.  She is often dismissed as the chimp lady, the one way out there on the margins, the “environmentalist.”  I know Jane, however, well.  We’ve written to each other, traveled with each other, talked at length.  And while she is capable of leveraging her name, she stays in the background and nurtures those plants (teachers like you) who nurture other plants (children) in contexts like yours.  One cannot help but come off as naive here.  No Hallmark card response to your clear, compelling, code-red description can ever ameliorate, no less fix, the kind of intractable problems of which you speak.  I have seen much, in my time, too much to think that our role (as individuals) can make a dramatic difference.

And yet, I prefer to wrestle with these demons (political, social, economic, class) that demoralize human beings, because I could not live with myself if I simply made peace with it.  It’s all there in Miami (I have family there).  Forgive me for my rambling (and somewhat unhelpful) response to your post, Odelia, but I suspect that you (and your other wonderful new colleagues in this course) don’t expect to get answers (at least for now).  Our intention is to build a durable, diverse, gracious, bright community of scholar practitioners, online, as warm as any class, and the only way to do so is through looking out from where we are and assembling, together, a framework (a window-sill, perhaps 🙂 by which we can make change.

In doing so, we must tell the truths – even when we’re exasperated and angry by what we see…calling it out.  It’s bad out there, often.  No sugar-coating… or, as you so aptly put it:  “Code Red is not a drill out there.”  I know, too, that the Odelias of the world are rose planters.  All the more reason that it’s an honor to have you in this course. 

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