James Cone wrote “to avoid suffering is to avoid resistance, and that leaves evil unchallenged” in his book , God of the Oppressed.
His point was that the quest for social justice is not an easy one; much of what is wrong in the world is wrong because we as humans do not have the energy or the will to resist it. The powers that be know that, and are able to “wait out” most resistance which comes to challenge the status quo.
Ironically, the truth of the matter is that if we do not resist power we continue to suffer. We stand the risk and real possibility that our unwillingness to resist will in fact bring more suffering into our lives.
Among the problems that we have as humans is that we like being comfortable. Though we suffer, we are comfortable suffering because it is a state of being with which we are familiar. Resisting that which makes us suffer takes us away from our cocoons, and puts us on roads we not only have never seen, but also in contact with challenges we would rather just not deal with.
And so we suffer.
I thought about that as I thought about the CDF Freedom Schools® program. The program is more than that; it is a movement to reverse the lives of at-risk kids. It is a movement dedicated to resisting the commonly held belief that poor and minority children cannot learn.
The idea is as preposterous as it is representative of the arrogance that more privileged people have in the way they think about people who are poor or less privileged. Freedom schools look at at-risk children not as objects, but as human beings. The relationships Freedom Schools foster are “I-thou” relationships, as opposed to “I-it” which is the way the powerful too often regard the less powerful.
Enter the notion that teaching literacy, one child at a time, can change not only that child, but his or family, his or her community, and this country. Consider the audacity of resisting a system which has all but spurned much public education, leaving scores of children, precious children though poor, at the mercy of environments in which nobody could learn, no matter his or her color or privilege.
The resistance causes some suffering, because some in power resist…the resistance. Those who push for a better life for children too often neglected run up against hardened spirits – spirits that are “psychosclerotic,” as William Sloan Coffin said – spirits that refuse to believe that “anything good can come out of Nazareth.”
Those who resist, then, suffer from the frustration of skepticism, the unwillingness of some people to help support the program, and from other less obvious methods the powerful use to try to keep things as they are and as they would like them to remain.
I was moved to tears reading one of Jonathan Kozol‘s books, Savage Inequalities, where the physical environments of some of our nation’s public schools he described were shameful in a nation which boasts of being the richest and most powerful in the world. Public schools described by Kozol included rooms where ceilings leaked, where there was no heat in the winter and no air in the summer; where multiple classes were held in one big room, making it virtually impossible for teachers to teach and for students to learn. Kozol describes the gradual loss of hope he has seen over and over in the eyes of little black, brown and poor children who begin school with great expectations, only to learn by third grade that nobody, not even their schools, thinks much of them.
As the children lose hope, as they are more ” its” in their classrooms, objects to be managed rather than students to be taught, they back away, first emotionally, and then physically, out of school. Many wind up in prison, entering what has come to be known as the “cradle to prison pipeline.” The powers that be seem not to care; the Prison Industrial Complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in our nation – a nation which, by the way, incarcerates more people than any other developed nation in the world.
Those who resist what I’ve just described opt into a process that can deplete their capacity to hope for better …and yet, they resist, they agree to suffer because the suffering of the children they see is so much greater. The refuse to let evil go unchallenged.
My daughter and the college and post-college students who will teach children in our Freedom school are in training all this week – being prepared for much more than they realize. They are involved, are a part of a movement, which refuses to STOP challenging evil. Whether they know it or not, they are engaging in a program of social change. They suffer some (the training is intense) so that they can alleviate, or help alleviate the suffering of so many more.
Every single day, I wake up thinking about how to get the funds to make our school all that it can be, and I find that in spite of the setbacks, the passion that drives this movement also drives me: we who can do better on behalf of others simple must do so. It seems to be a no-brainer that it is necessary to fight myths that keep so much of our population down and out, but simultaneously prepares them to keep states and individuals wealthy by providing new prisons with new inmates.
There is no excuse for the wealthiest nation in the world to be so willing to ignore the cries of children who happened to be born poor to be heard and loved and taught. It seems to be a national shame that little children who enter school in kindergarten in first grade are too often completely despondent and frustrated by third grade – just because we who could do better didn’t.
CDF Freedom Schools are not about giving any child a handout. It is about giving children hope and pushing them to dream and to see the power in themselves. A nation cannot go wrong if its so-called “dispossessed” are treated as human beings and not as chattel. Freedom schools embrace children other entities chew up and spit out.
It is evil for a nation that can do better to not do better for children who deserve a good education. It is evil to make sure the affluent are taken care of using dollars that could be more equitably shared between affluent and poor communities. Sharing those funds would not be socialism, as some, I imagine, would proffer.
It would be fair.
A candid observation …