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Peter's Spiritual Journey, Part V: Watching My Students Drown

(3rd of 3 Ruminations on Class Issues)

The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones

Where I first consciously bumped up against class issues was in one of my first teaching jobs, when I was in special education.  One class I taught was 20th Century History, to a group of five high school students with issues ranging from severe dyslexia to mild or moderate retardation.  Three of them were overtly racist, and it was clear from day one that a lot of high-falutin’ liberal political theory was not going to talk them out of that.  Like any good public school teacher, I challenged racist language whenever they used it.  But how much actually got through?  I remember trying to explain to a kid that being proud of his Italian-American heritage was great, but saying “Whites rule!…

Peter's Spiritual Journey, Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender

(2nd of 3 Ruminations on Class Issues)

The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones

I left Yale for three reasons:  I seemed to be the only biology major in the entire school who wanted to be a biologist rather than a doctor.  (“Failure” at Yale: not getting into any medical schools.)  The neighborhoods of New Haven surrounding the school really were dangerous to walk through, with several muggings and rapes of students every semester.  But the thing that really drove me away was how the dynamic of rich white Yalies ensconced within Gothic battlements with moats and iron gates amidst a sea of urban blight, violence, and poverty was a recipe for explosive racial tensions, both town/gown and within the student body.  Everyone knew that the problems all came from economic d…

Peter's Spiritual Journey, Part III: Who Am I?

(1st of 3 Ruminations on Class Issues)
The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones

I started writing my spiritual journey a couple of years ago, right after coming back from a visit to Kenya.  I was trying to go more or less chronologically, and I got bogged down trying to write about an event in my 20’s—transferring schools from Yale to Oberlin—that was full of pain and passion at the time but now, looking back on it, feels like musty old history.
I’m picking it up again because there are conversations beginning at my Quaker meeting about issues of race and class and inclusivity in our meeting.  The next three pieces of this journey come from things I wrote as part of that dialogue, starting with just trying to get my bearings on where I fit in the whole scheme of clas…