Aparna sent me an email and attached her senior essay. Couldn’t help crying when i read it, especially toward the end, really touching. “Unlearning the Promise of Schools.”

It doesn’t matter where, the US or VN, in an unjust system, the poor, even with schooling, have little chance to succeed, and even when they manage to finish high school, how many continue to higher education? And how many (in VN) go study abroad? And even more important is asking whether said education is conducive to the learner’s development.

I’ve always thought about working in education, of course not teaching at school, because first off i don’t have the diploma, and second, Vietnamese education is too stifling, too suffocating, i’m not trained enough to stand it. An Inhumane Education.

I don’t know what I can teach, or how, but Freire says “teacher” and “learner” have to proceed together, have to teach and to learn from each other. If the “learner” doesn’t see the benefit of learning, education fails. I don’t have any set of skills or profession to teach; what i want to teach, at least at this moment, is the habit of independent thinking. Think independently, and know how to question so as not to be fooled. Think independently, to be able to recognize our own’s and others’ worth, and to respect each other. Think independently, to be able to identify what is corrupt, what is unjust. To think independently to be able to find creative ways to overcome obstacles in personal life and in society.

But how can i be sure that others share these values? The kids who have to struggle every day to survive, do they and their parents see the reward in that kind of untraditional learning? Can it be combined with arts activities so that the learner can self-explore, experiment, and express?
The answer is that i don’t know. I can’t sit here and hypothesize, totally cut off from reality. Just some pondering. What to do for a more just society, for each citizen to take on more responsibility, to “antagonize” over social problems, and to feel that they can contribute something?

How to balance a desire to work at a personal level (i.e. to teach, to interact with kids) and at the same time, make a difference that doesn’t stop at each individual but will develop itself further and further? Of course, i can talk about the chain effect: the change in each individual will influence many others, and so on. But… i’m not sure what i want to say. I think about those schools for peace and democracy in Israel and Palestine. In the midst of war, of hatred and feud, people open schools where they teach the young tolerance, respect for difference, and coexistence. An exemplar for making difference at two difference levels.

I can’t tell the kids that they need to do well in school, they will succeed and earn a lot of money, etc. I don’t want to and i don’t believe in such things.
I remember when I tutored SAT for some highschoolers, i asked why they wanted to go to college… Because no one in my family is a college graduate, i want to be the first one, i want to have knowledge so that i can pursue what i really like… Tears were in my eyes and i really didn’t know what to say.
That was in the US, in VN, i’d want to say: please study so that one day, you’ll be the one who fight against the unacceptable, for yourselves and for others, you’ll fight for education reform for example. But i’m still worried. Can people switch between two different modes without them blending together? Going to school for 10 years, knowing that what they are taught is bullshit (in such subjects as literature and history in particular, and the method of teaching/learning in general), after those 10 years, will there be any spirit left to fight against that bullshit? But if they don’t conform in the classroom, will they get there?

In the meantime, i hope that there are still teachers who have conscience, love their jobs and are passionate about them, and know how to respect their students; i hope those who are still at school, by one way or another, will not let themselves squelched; i hope all those who can will go abroad, even better if they make friends with people from all over the world, to see that they have different perspectives from which we can learn, to see that we have common values and goals so that we can join together, to see more clearly the transformation of society, in their countries, in VN, in the world. Nothing is immutable.

This part from Aparna’s essay really says it all:

school communities need to become sites of collective organizing, where instead of preparing students for a world of unfair life chances, we collectively struggle to change the realities we see and experience.This is why integration is fundamental to a liberating vision of education.Until we are all at the table, the experiences of working-class children and poor children will remain unreal to middle-class and wealthy children, the experiences of Black and Brown children will remain unreal to white children and the experiences of disabled children remain will unreal to able-bodied children.Integration gives us the potential to build a movement where we can understand ourselves as human, where we stand in solidarity with each other’s experiences and where we viscerally know that none of us is free until all of us are free.


Education must be intellectual, emotional, ethical and practical.

Education needs to be humane.