“He called me. He had murdered someone. He had all this pent up fury and rage in him. I never heard from him again after that,” says Kozol.
You’ve got your one phone call. Who do you call? You call the teacher that showed you your humanity all those years ago when you were in the fourth grade and he read you Langston Hughes instead of a children’s book about a dog named Spot or a girl named Jane. It’s the first time an adult in this school has treated you like a person and not an animal.
Landlord landlord my roof has sprung a leak.
Don’t you ‘member I told you about it
Way last week?
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It’s a wonder you don’t fall down. –Langston Hughes, “The Ballad of the Landlord”
Did Langston Hughes wish for his landlord to fall down the stairs? you might wonder as the teacher reads the poem aloud to you, I know I do sometimes.
Jonathon Kozol used literature to acknowledge his student’s humanity and get them engaged in the classroom while working at a school where colored students were still whipped. He was fired when he read Langston Hughes for “deviating from the curriculum.” But when a student found himself in trouble years later, who did he call? He called the one person he knew would listen, and maybe understand.
“Mr. V was a constant advocate in my corner,” says another student, this time in reference to his middle school band teacher. “I got in trouble, at Langston Hughes [Academy in New Orleans], and they put me in Mr. V’s class. I said I don’t think I’m going to like Mr. V.” But Mr. Venable fought in this student’s corner, pushing him to excel in music and school. Listening to the student talk about his teacher from four years earlier you can hear that this teacher did something right.
He treated him well, and fought in his corner.
And speaking of allies, hear what this student has to say about Mr. Ashley on what he learned from chess, “The most pertinent strategy from chess that I can immediately apply to my profession is the concept of loyalty that surrounds protecting/securing the king. … One must utilize the full army of pawns, bishops, knights, rooks and the powerful queen to destroy enemies and safeguard the mighty king.”
The whole team works together. I think that this student’s experience has parallels to teaching on so many levels. Perhaps, one could think of the teacher as the player, encouraging all of the students, the pawns, bishops, knights and rooks to work together towards a common goal. They advocate on behalf of one another. They make sacrifices for each other. They think ahead, considering the consequences that their actions will have, not only on themselves, but on the other pieces, or students as well.