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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Youth fueled hope cures adult inspired discouragement

I've spent nearly two decades working at the system level of public education. During that time, I've tried to regularly visit schools to watch the magic of teaching and learning happen. It's not easy to adjust the course of the giant over regulated ship that is public education. Sometimes it feels like running purposefully into a brick wall. Getting into learning spaces and watching teachers empower learners is inspiring.

This week I was discouraged and angry when I read the article by ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio about two decades of mistreatment of young children in Tennessee by a juvenile court judge, complicit police, and scared or intimidated principals. The article tells how many adults failed to--as Charles Cole on the 8 Black Hands podcast put it--stand up for kids. I was particularly saddened that the principal in the opening story hadn't received sufficient training or legal counsel to confidently tell the police she was not going to hand over 9 year old girls to them at school, to be handcuffed and led away because the police wanted to question them about a fist fight they'd seen between a 5 year old and a 6 year old.

But as I participated in the Education Law Association conference this week, I was encouraged to hear from current and former teachers now pursuing graduate degrees in education or law talk about how they had chosen to do what was right for young people. Sometimes that meant simply seeing them for who they were, recognizing whether a student was likely to have a good day or bad day, and adjusting how they interacted with them accordingly. I also was inspired to hear from University of New Mexico law professor Maryam Ahranjani about the impact of the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy programs. For 20 years these programs empower law students to teach high school students about their rights and responsibilities--and the opportunities they have to rectify injustice. Alan Haynes, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at St. Mary's University Law School is starting another Street Law Program with a local high school. Since 1972, law students have been teaching high school students about basic legal concepts, giving them knowledge and skills to make a difference in their communities.

I'm not absolved of making a difference in my circles of control and influence because young people are equipping themselves to make the world better. But we all get discouraged in our efforts to "write a world where we can belong to each other." When that happens, turn off Twitter and find a place to watch true education happening. Author Philip Pullman once said, "True education begins at the moment delight falls in love with responsibility." So find some delight and let that encourage you in your responsibility!

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