Dear graduates of 2010, deans, administrators, faculty, staff, parents, friends, other students, acquaintances, and that guy in the back who mistook this for a free food event,
I asked my middle school history teacher what I should say today. She said that if I was stuck, for ideas I might want to think of the most inspirational quotes of my life and combine them into a speech. All right, I said, and I wrote.
[CLEAR THROAT] "My mama always said, 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your box of chocolates.' You see, there is nothing to fear but Simba! Some day this land will be yours. You see, four score and seven years ago, we the United Cohorts of HGSE, in order to form a perfect Bond, James Bond, establish that there is a day when the courage of teachers will fail, but it is not ---"
The Lamont librarians asked me to stop practicing aloud. It wasn't going so well. I tried asking my father, housemates, and most recently at 4 a.m. this morning, our house's pet Chihuahua for advice on this speech. The Chihuahua, Duchess, said that things were looking [RUFF!] So then I thought, "If I had just arrived at Harvard like many of you have, what would simply confuse the crap out of me and that I would want explained."
Number one I imagine, would be, "When do I get free barbecue?"
The second might be this:
The Language of HGSE
You may find yourself this evening wandering to and fro betwixt soon to be ordained masters, and hear them float comments like, "Sorry mom and dad, after the PTAC, I had to go with the AIEs and TEPs to stop by the CSO and OSA to figure out my HGSE M.Ed. SRO and my SEO forms, and I found out I have $50,000 smackeroos in Stafford and unsubsidized from my FAFSA, so could I borrow five bucks for a slice of P.I.Z.Z.A.?"
And you, the parent, grandparent, unsuspecting friend who was guilted into coming instead of going on vacation in the Poconos, may collectively respond with furrowed eyebrows and that look that so perfectly says, "I want to go H.O.M.E."
But why not sit down for a moment! Home is far away after all, and I guarantee you that you will not be capable of understanding the language of HGSE any less than I did this year. I've tried other languages. In Pakistan, I tried Urdu, saying to my colleague. "Me Sam. Apka bhhens kya hai?" Which loosely translates to "I Sam, what your water buffalo?" And he responded in perfect English, "You won't last at Harvard for 10 seconds."
So I came to Cambridge for HGSE. And he was right. It wasn't 10. But because of the joyous invention of pass/fail courses and the loose interpretation of "a course that fulfills international credit," I schlepped along for all 24,000,000 seconds this program had to offer along with the many wonderful yous.
Now initially, the language medium here sounded like English. But nay, upon closer look, it was as far from English as cream cheese and jelly sandwiches are from delicious (sorry, mom).
Through history, humans have always had language. From my supprosings of Neanderthals talking mostly about dead animal, "Zug Zug, thag like meat good," to the eventual emergence of Indo-European and Semetic languages, branching into Altaic, Germanic, AfroAsiatic, and others. Of course, soon came Latin and then when they needed to speak in super top secret code, Pig Latin. Somewhere down the line in the year 1920, the Harvard Graduate School of Education arose, and declared independence from mutual intelligibility with most of the world.
Thus was born the language of HGSE.
The first new word I heard at HGSE was UNPACK.
[CUTE voice] "Oh yes, unpack my stuff...Well I brought my Mickey Mouse lamp. We'll put that there. I brought my rainbow onesie that my mother embarrassingly bought for my 24th birthday, but I secretly love it...[PAUSE] I'll tuck that away."
No! Unpack was revealed when I was sitting in A801 Comparative Education Policy and someone said, "Let's UNPACK the term 'socioeconomically-linked educational outcomes.'" Ummm?! Huh? Nothing was coming up in Google Translate.
Let's start a little earlier. I remember those first sunny days playing, "Read the name tag" in front of Gutman library, of group photos and free handbags, and Kevin Boehm's tall stature looming over us wee mortals to the tune of "Electric Slide." And, as I met everyone, I realized we all spoke about the world just a little bit differently. I remember this ever so clearly.
[EXTEND shaking hand] Hi, nice to meet you. My name's Sam, and I like the color pink.
[Take other role] Oh, wonderful. My name's John, and I like community organized bilingual literacy reform.
You stop off in Eliot-Lyman in Larsen Hall to get more free hummus you hear "Unprivileged representation," and you wander over past Longfellow and hear "Community-centered classrooms" and "Achievement pressure" cascading from the building and down to the [say fast] though-it-took-four-months-to-do-newly-paved-Appian-Way. (That's right. This year's remodel was fresh asphalt. Drive lovingly.)
As amazing as these phrases were to me, what do those conversations look like when you're catching up on Gchat?
[Assume typing position] Person A: "Oh hi! How are you? How's Cambridge? OMG, I'll bet it's so cold and blizzardy right now. I'm in Florida right now!"
You: "It's great! Today I learned about school districting finance reform!"
Person A: "__"
You: "Hello? Hello? Are you still there?"
Gchat: "Person A is offline and unavailable to receive your chat."
You: "Oh c'mon mom!"
And so we had to unpack here. We had to know what we were talking about if we were going to know anything. All the terms, all the walls we had built up in our jobs previous. They had to spread out again. We had to start speaking our acronyms fully. Because it was important. Because my old biology professor tells me ever so often, "Education as a social science? That's not a real science." And it's not. We are informed by science. But unpacking is everything in between, is where humanity comes in. It was when Professor Eleanor Duckworth said, "What do you mean by 'the moon rotates'?"
"No, no, what it does mean to rotate?"
"Well, it spins."
And that was the moment when 50 HGSE students got up from their desks and started doing some amusical version of orbital do si do's to show their explanations for the phases of the moon.
I tried using the word UNPACK at home over winter break. I was driving with my friend to get milkshakes, and he turns to me off-handedly says, "I just want to change the world." And I said, "Can we unpack what you mean by 'change the world.'" He pauses, turns, and looks at me. "I will UNPACK your face."
Hmmm... I hadn't learned well.
[IN passing] "Can we unpack what you mean by 'face'?"
Right next to commonly used phrases like, "Why does Longfellow Hall remind me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey?" you will find your second word in your HGSE dictionary to be: PUSH BACK.
I never played football growing up, so I figured this might be a lesser-known player position.
[COACH VOICE] All right, team. We got our quarterback, you'll make the tosses. Halfback, are you ready? Tailback and, hey, you, Pushback, get back in the T-formation. Pushback, stop tackling, just guide people to the ground softly. Escort them. There you go. No, cup their head behind th
e ears. Gently. Good. Pushback."
Then it got used in sentences:
"No, Sam, I'm going to push back on your idea about the role of schooling."
"Sam, I'd like to push back on your incomprehensible econ problem set."
"I'd like to push back on your thoughts on differentiated curricula."
"Sam, I'd like to push back on your haircut."
I came to know the phrase as meaning "Everything you think you know is wrong, and I will dominate your every comment, question, and soul on the issue at hand, but I'll be professional and this is the Ed School, so I'm going to say push back." [pause]
I know now it's more nuanced. I've stopped saying that I am going to open a can of pushback on you. To push back is to resist. They say that in medicine the most difficult patients are always doctors. In legal representation, the worst clients are lawyers. It follows that that the most difficult students would be educators doing a one year master's programs in education...and, of course, Uche in the doctoral program.
With the given resources of the world, I believe that if nothing changes, without push back, the status quo will always win. So does Professor Marshall Ganz, from whom I stole that line. Whatever resources we had once, we all have at least one part of our story in common, don't we? In Beijing this winter, a panel of Harvard students was asked, "What does it mean to be a Harvard student?" (Free cohort brunches?)
The panelists stumbled over the difficult question, something about being "special," "motivated" maybe? One finally said, "The one thing we have in common is that we are all at Harvard." That is it. We were all here this year. And no matter where we came from, and in being here, we are all lucky and privileged. At first in coming here, I felt that spark. Opportunity everywhere! Lectures, thinking, everywhere! Cookie platters, everywhere! And there are kids on campus for educators to interact with! Well, nowhere!
One time in educational reform, there were [said softly] real, authentic, students on this campus. High-schoolers even. They sat in front, and waited patiently while we adults debated away about what kids of lower socioeconomic statuses need in their education. Then one high school girl raised her hand quietly, and spoke when called on.
"If you want to know, then you should have asked me. I don't want you to show me numbers and sit there and understand that I'm poor. I want you to understand why I'm poor. I want you to understand who I am, what my family goes through, what it feels like to smile at a bunch of rich kids every day. I want you to understand that I have hopes and dreams, and I am going to be somebody no matter what."
Martin Luther King said, "The arc of the moral universe it long, but it bends toward justice." It takes a lot of hands pushing on it to make it that way. Push back.
I learned many other words and terms here as well. Student achievement. Hidden curriculum. ESL. KIPP. TFA. KIPP. OSA. SEO. SOS!
"Library" means "Your only social space."
"Career Services" means "I don't have a job yet."
"Resumania" means "I want a job real bad."
"Chuck E. Cheese Mouse Mascot Costume Guy" means "Job for the summer!"
And there are other important words in the dictionary.
But I was hoping to add one more. Just one.
First, I was thinking of defining Hugs, since this is HGSE after all. You know, [act out] you have the too-long hug, the bro-hug, the I-really-want-to-show-love-but-I-kind-of-smell-like-cabbage-because-I-just-worked-out-at-Hemenway-gym-hug, the middle school dance hug, The-wow-you-really-DO-smell-like-cabbage hug, and so on.
Then the deans said, do not mention the term HGSE in your speech. They unpacked some pushback. And so I thought about Greeks instead. In January, a friend asked me what I thought about HGSE so far when they were considering it for next year. And I said, "Well I LOVE my courses. I LOVE that I get the space to think. I LOVE this place." "Useless," he said. He said it was like asking an Oompa Loompa if they liked chocolate. (He's coming, by the way.)
But it did seem ridiculous that we use the word love for many different things. "I love you, mom." "I love you, dad." "I love you, friend." "I love [pause] pork chop sandwiches." And the Ancient Greeks would be pretty befuddled by this as well. How did we forget? What happened to their education? They outlined it all for us in their four loves.
And you say, "Love? But when are we going to be tested on this?" As Taylor Mali once said, [deep voice] EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES.
"Storge," the first love, is the love of family, which is important. I feel "storge" every time I wake up and see my tower of course packs has been decimated by the unrelenting bladder of our house's Chihuahua. Storge. You don't have to like your family members all the time, just "storge" them.
Then there is "Eros," romantic love. Greeks loved it. And with all the Queens Head mixers with the Kennedy School and Business School and the romantic late evening walks into the dungeons of Lamont Library after Gutman Library security guards are forced to spatula your body from their desks at 11 p.m., you could too. But I won't talk about that now.
There is "Philia," friendship love. After reading for her final paper this spring, a colleague looked up from her desk and said to me, "Books are my only friends now." Cute. "True." another chimed in.
I do think of this one often here, though. In the end, this year was filled with books and people who really shared something amazing in common. The difference between this year and the others is that there will always be books. Hold on to those non-book friends. Physically. They'll miss their flight and stay forever.
No, that is not what I wanted to talk about either.
[PAUSE] The word I wanted to add to the HGSE dictionary is this:
My preschool was called "Agape," which also happens to be the name of the fourth Greek love, and most closely translates to "true love" or "charity." A love for people you haven't necessarily met yet. And lord knows the HGSE alumni office has already hit you up for next year's students. You may not have met them, but fork it over, Moneybags. "Agape them."
But there is something special about the twinkle in people's eyes that normally comes with ice cream or a walk through the forest at mid-day. Here it comes when you say the words [softly] "social justice." If there is anything else that unites us, it is that we believe in the potential of students. That if we can put those strangers turned loved ones turned hated ones turned loved ones again on our shoulders so that they can see farther than we ever have before, that that will be our life's work. It is immensely humbling.
If you want humbling, just compare our starting salaries to that of graduates from the business school. Humbling. But oh, what you have now. You are being pushed out so you can push back. At times like this I think about how this is the last time we will all be in the same place, besides at graduation and possibly the Thursday 10:00 p.m. showing of Babies: The Movie. I also think how grateful I am that you will all be out there. Dispersed, in clumps, or maybe even here, helping more come through.
Regardless, the role of an educator is to plan a life for students in which the teacher will eventually disappear. Where the student goes on after. How fortunate are we in this endeavor. Despite this humbling, we still imagine every year that the first day of school will play out gloriously.
[Movie announcer voice] IN A WORLD WHERE IGNORANCE WAS KING. ONE TEACHER WOULD RISE ABOVE. DRAMA. ACTION. PASSION. FIFTH GRADE LANGUAGE ARTS.
The reality is that often we scoot the world along, often quite secretly. We have t
he only profession in the world that admits that we are mortal and thus must pass wisdom on so that others can go and have the chance to prove it wrong, or to prove it better, to pass Agape on.
When I joined the Harmonicas, the a cappella group at HGSE, it was immediately clear to the rest that I could not sing. I can't sing well, and never will be able to, as you will soon have the ill-fate of having to experience personally. But the directors of that group. They love. They direct that group, and can sing, dance, and harmonize, and then listen to the melody of the sound of a pigeon-being-stepped-on that is my voice. But they love.
And from that love, they teach.
So whether you're an [next part, go fast] AIE, EPM, HE, HDP, IEP, L&L, MBE, RP, SL, SS, TEP, TIE, EDLD, PhD, or saying OMG because you have G2G... [pause, breath] I hope you remember in the moment where your newest NGO promoting Vocational Cheesemaking training in schools flops, that moment when Terry from accounting comes in to your office and says, "What 10th grade budget?" or that moment when Tommy accidentally pees his new blue sweatpants and kindergarten and tries to get the class to make costume paper armor to so that he can cover up the stains right when the school yearbook photographer comes in (read: me, when I was six)....
I hope in that moment you remember that you were all here once. Forgetting is easy to do when you are under a world of stress, but as Einstein himself once said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he has learned in school."
This is true. Every time I lay my head down to sleep, I can feel international education monitoring protocol leaking out of my brain. (sorry Fernando, mom, dad, and any unfortunate future employers).
I will remember what Conroy Commons chili tastes like. And I will remember that OSA karaoke night may have been small, but it was STRONG. And I will remember that we educators were here because we believe that people, equal and just, are what power the world. You were here once. Soon you will be there. But before you go, there is somebody to whom you should say hello. To use that new language you've found.
See, I'm your fan now, but I'm a fair-weather fan. You're already doing great. There were people back there who were excited for you back when you were accidentally gluing your head to various pieces of furniture. Imagine that world back then. They had no idea who you would become over the next 20-90 years. Imagine if education only lived for those products.
It would be like running down to Upper Crust pizza around the corner, and saying, "Oh hey, I'd love the Slice of the Day." And they say, "Great, that will be ready in 20-25 years." WHAT!?!?! I have, like 10 minutes before I eat my own arm.
Imagine you find the newest YouTube link of a squirrel dancing on a cocker spaniel riding on a blue whale, and you hit "Play!" and it says, "Loading time...four decades." Imagine if your efforts took that long. Imagine what your teacher's efforts looked like.
Your kindergarten teacher taught you anywhere from 17 to 500 epochs ago. You and your glued scalp. Who could have known what you would turn out like, what you will turn out like? What do they and we get in the process?
A year ago in February, I had a subbing job for science in Wellesley, Mass. Back then, my Valerie Sutton, HGSE career services officer extraordinaire, was a man named Craig, and his well-maintained List.
It was Valentine's Day, and I was sitting in my classroom preparing tomato sauce lava of different consistencies, when I heard footsteps flying down the hall and up to my door.
"Mr. Haynor, take this. Quickly."
It was David, my favorite student. He was known by the counselor and other teachers as a problem child. I had been "warned" about him, but I loved him nonetheless.
He handed me the back of a chair from the lunchroom, and ran away. I saw the assistant principal run shortly after. He had sharpied the chair back, and so I put it away in my backpack at the time and returned my preparations. The assistant principal emailed me that night to ask whether I had the seat back as proof of the infraction. I told him I'd misplaced it.
[Take it out of bag] "Dear Mr. Haynor, you don't suck quite as bad as I thought you were going to. Happy Valentine's from David." The most important note I've ever received.
Now I challenge you. Beneath each of your seats is a letter. An envelope, really, a stamp, and a blank piece of paper. The language is going to be your own. To fill in the missing part of your education puzzle. Choose a teacher. Any sort. Formally, or a parent, a friend, a hot dog vendor, anyone who has taught to, and here is your chance to let them know. To alter the course of their lives as they have for you. Please write to someone. Or sell the stamp for parking money.
How could they have known then that that you would be sitting right there? [point to crowd]
And living in here? [point to heart]
And working right here? [point to head]
And using education as the tool in which we believe that this world has a hope of changing, because if we do not teach tolerance and math and acceptance and painting and dancing and language and history all together, then our kids will never know that it is okay to demand excellences.
They say that HGSE is the nexus of practice, policy, and research, but you are the nexus of mind, heart, and hands. Those teachers Agape-d you once. They still do. And the greatest homage and honor to them is to get out there and do it better. If there is anything and everything I have learned from all of you, [oh man, look at you] it is that to love something, you need to know it. And to know it, you need somebody to help you.
Love is Knoweldge, and it may be the only path to peace and justice both. Spread it like wildfire.
The world is excited for you. Brendan Dotson from EPM's new baby son is excited. Ellen Holt's and Melissa Duphily's babies are doing disco moves in utero right now. My friend's grandmother at 76 in Haiti, who is going to school for the first time ever so that she can learn to write letters to her grandchildren...she is excited for you. Just remember that there are others who were here who care. And there were those who cared before that. Who are bending that arc with you.
THEY are excited for you.
There is a new language that we speak now.
I look forward [pause] to humbly sending my children to you some day to learn it. I agape you all very much. Thank you dearly for everything.