school

A Teacher in Kabul

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the eighth grade although he is an 18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime. In between these tasks, the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten. When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding 10 more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit 60 times in one day. Dreading the next day when the number would rise to 70, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students. But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Fallout in the Neighborhood When a Catholic School Closes

Photo courtesy of University of Notre Dame

Garnett and Brinig’s book. Photo courtesy of University of Notre Dame

What happens to a community when a Roman Catholic school closes its doors?

That’s the question Nicole Stelle Garnett and Margaret F. Brinig, two Notre Dame law professors, pondered as they studied closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

There were 7,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. in 2010, down from 13,000 in 1960, according to the National Catholic Education Association. The decline, rooted in the migration of parishioners to the suburbs and the secularization of Catholic culture, has been dubbed the “closure crisis” within the church.

Religion News Service asked Garnett about what she and Brinig found in their investigation, which resulted in their new book: Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How to Love Like a Mother

Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

We need something like a mother's love in our churches. Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

In my Santa BarbaraCalifornia neighborhood, which we sometimes call “Leave it to Beaver Land” for its seeming serenity and peace, a new practice has become evident: Children no longer walk alone to our neighborhood elementary school. Every morning, a parade of mothers and fathers accompany their children the short distance to school, dogs in tow and cellphones in hand. It looks like the practice of safety, but it’s also the practice of fear. You just never know. It could happen anywhere. It could happen here.

These parents know about something we call “school incidents.” They know the statistics about the number of American children that are shot, stabbed, and killed in our schools each year. Like the rest of us, they know about the big ones, from Columbine to Newtown to Chicago to Pittsburgh, and they know there are so many more stories that never make it to CNN.

The soundtrack for the story of childhood in America reverberates with gunfire and the sobs of stunned classmates and grieving parents. It’s the soundtrack of fear.

Fear is our newest neighbor, even in sunny “Leave it to Beaver Land.”

James and the Giant Book

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev  / Shutterstock.com

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev / Shutterstock.com

In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.

I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.

"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man. 

There is.

Teachers Are Builders

Community builders illustration, Losevsky Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

Community builders illustration, Losevsky Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

"Teachers are builders," said my friend. "You build safe learning environments for your students. You build safe spaces for your parents. You build knowledge and experience for yourselves. You build community with each other. You are builders."

I like her image.

This year I'm going to work on the 'building community with each other' part.

Recognizing Greatness in a First Grader

Stack of classic books, sergign / Shutterstock.com

Stack of classic books, sergign / Shutterstock.com

There is a wonderful scene in Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird where the all-white jury has returned an unjust verdict against Tom Robinson. Atticus Finch begins to wearily walk out of the courthouse. His children, Jem and Scout, are in the balcony with the black folks of the county. They all rise as Atticus walks out — except the children — so the Rev. Sykes says to Scout, Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your fathers passin.

During the first weeks of school, Scout's story came back to me as I was benchmarking the reading levels of our first- and second-grade students. Before I took the students through the benchmark test, I asked them open-ended questions and listened to their answers. At first they were shy, as children often are when they meet a new teacher. But soon they were telling me their stories with confident voices and dimpled smiles.

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