Friday, August 12, 2011

Is it okay to tell young people they can be street-sweepers?

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King

I remembered this quote the other day when I was talking to one of the former teachers from my school. Somehow, I guess we were talking about the school and how it has changed (somewhat) since we became “an official government school”. I was telling him a brief story about how a local government official (something like a district officer or something) had stopped by to visit the new principal. She was taking him around to the classes to say hello. Of course, these things are rarely ever known in advance….virtually no planning of events, etc…goes on here at the schools. Anyway, I was in the Form 3 class at the desk of a student who had asked me a question. Of course, I’m engrossed in trying to talk to this student and didn’t even see that the principal had come to the door. [Yes, I actually see the students as the VIPS...silly me!] They alerted me and then she introduced this guy, whoever he was. Okay, why am I telling this story?? The next time we had school assembly (maybe the next day), she told the Form 3 class that she was very disappointed that they didn’t all stand when this guy came to this room. Of course, I was thinking maybe that was my fault since I didn’t even acknowledge that they had opened the door. Nonetheless, she went on to reprimand the students and said something like “Who do you think you are? < to not stand when a government official visits >, You are nothing!” Of course, this is not something that I would ever say to any of my students (even the ones that drive me crazy!). So, later when I visited the classes, I told them that before we started class I just wanted to tell them one thing…”You are NOT nothing!” I didn’t say why I said it, I just said it. Later I thought about the quote above (I remember reading it long ago in one of the books I have read about MLK). The teacher and I were talking about how the environment now at my school is more like a “typical Kenyan school” since it has become “official”. Although my school is still fairly “non-typical” (e.g. no physical punishment, no caning) it has changed. The principal and new teachers talk a lot about how the students are much undisciplined. Of course, I have a very different view about discipline. [Don’t want to go into a long diatribe here about the system…it will take way too much time!] The quote came to mind because I have been thinking a lot about what they tell students about being successful. We do the same in America, but slightly differently. We tell them things like: if you just dress correctly, you’ll be successful; if you are disciplined in everything, you’ll be successful; if you just studied more hours, you’d be successful; and so on. While I am definitely not against being well-disciplined in many ways, I think sometimes we have to think about our definition of “success”. I think that we mostly mean you will have a “good” job, the right type of house, a comfortable living, dedicated to working hard, etc… Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, but most people I’ve encountered are not telling their kids that it is okay to be a street-sweeper, if that is what God calls you to do. Maybe if you are a street-sweeper (or similarly low on the totem pole job) you’ll also be told, in this world, that you are “nothing” BUT, if you follow His will in whatever employment, you will be told “well done my good and faithful servant”.