The Prophetic Imagination by Cullen Dolson

"I don’t know if these hands will become

Malcom’s--raised and fisted

or Martin’s--open and asking

or James’s--curled around a pen

I do not know if these hands will be

Rosa’s

or Ruby’s

gently gloved

and fiercely folded

calmly in a lap,

on a desk,

around a book,

ready

to change the world…"

Excerpt from “second daughter’s second day on earth” by Jacqueline Woodson from Brown Girl Dreaming

 

Through her powerful and compelling poetry, Jacqueline Woodson began this school year for our sixth graders with this message: you will change the world, and there are many ways to do it. As she traces her own course of political action in her book, Brown Girl Dreaming--whether to follow the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, or Ruby Bridges--she invites the reader to do the same. This prophetic imagination is vital to what James Baldwin characterizes as the very purpose of education.

“The purpose of education,” Baldwin asserts in his speech, “A Talk to Teachers,” “is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself.” He is not referring to some banal, mundane understanding of “a global citizen” to borrow the language of many colleges and universities. For Baldwin, the act of education must be revolution in and of itself. We must recognize that education is inextricably bound up with all aspects of society. Every level of discrimination and oppression is present in our education system as is it is present within each of us. Education without recognizing and actively combating this truth, especially in a white-dominated teaching staff like Esperanza Academy, is no less than relenting to the spectre of our oppressive society. We must invite our own students to engage in imagining who they can and will become.

Instilling a prophetic imagination in our students is a pressing issue. It is not by chance that we experienced the hottest year on record and watched three of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded decimate countless communities. US travel bans, the threat to DACA, and choleric leadership that preferences straight white men has created a permeating sense of fear that detracts from education on a daily basis. The largest mass killing by one man seems only expected in our day of automatic rifles and unabashed gun rights. If we cannot recognize how these themes of injustice enter our classrooms with teachers and students alike, then we have failed in our endeavors to educate fully and radically. We need more Malcolms, Martins, James’, Rosas, and Rubys; however, this will only happen if teachers first take the plunge into deep learning that does not suffer from tests and outside expectations and allow our students to dream their better world with them as beautiful and strong leaders.