What do you want to be when you grow up?

From Pete Seeger’s “What Did You Learn in School Today?”

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?

I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody’s free,
And that’s what the teacher said to me.
That’s what I learned in school today,
That’s what I learned in school.

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
I learned that policemen are my friends.
I learned that justice never ends.
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
I learned our Government must be strong;
It’s always right and never wrong;
Our leaders are the finest men
And we elect them again and again….

What do you want to be when you grow up? That is the question that as kids we are often asked as we start to think about our future and what it means to be an adult. Today in class, my students had to write something that interests them. A group of boys decided that they wanted to write about careers so we began discussing the question of what they wanted to be in the future. I shared that my dream job would be having my own travel show, where I got to explore the world, meet new people and learn about their views and opinions and eat delicious food. I shared with these boys a piece of my writing and they smirked at the idea of me being anything other than a teacher. I can’t blame them since I have worked with them for 3 years now. One shared with me that he was planning on joining the armed forces and another wanted to be an engineer. The next one I knew wanted to be a police officer but today he said that he wants to be a veterinarian. I asked him why and when did he change his mind and he told me point blank, because of all that has conspired over the last few months in the news, police are not respected and he wants to have a respectable job.

I had to stop and stare for a moment. I couldn’t disagree. This is what it has come to.

We spent the next few minutes talking about their thoughts of what has happened in cities across America including our own, what they have seen, and what some of them have experienced in their own lives. They shared their fear of violence and how they don’t feel safe. The news story about Tamir Rice, who was the same age of these students, made them realize they were not free from the disgusting realities of police brutality and racial inequality. Yes, there are many factors that have affected when violence was used or not but regardless, it is a fact that not all people are treated equally because of things they cannot control like race or economic status. How can I teach these students to do something with their lives and become successful if they don’t feel safe in their homes or even their own skin?

After our discussion, we didn’t draw any conclusions or come up with a solution. We only pondered what can we do next. I had read from CNN.com an article titled “Racism Without Racists” which I think has been the only article to address the underlying issue of how we got here as a nation. Everyone has preconceived notions about race that have been created from our society but none of us want to admit it. The American society throughout our history has created negative images in our consciousness to make us believe certain things, creating a mirage of the truth. I believe this article identifies all the key points of how we all have racist thoughts but it is too taboo to discuss them so we cannot inform ourselves to change our minds. I suppose I don’t know when we started thinking that some people are better than others but it is ingrained in our consciousness. I’m a product of the system and so are you and in order to have a better future we have to change what we think, feel and value as a society.

The question remains as to what can we do now to better the situation. We all have the ability to create a peaceful and triumphant future. We only have one life to live and it is our responsibility to make a change so that we stop the spread of hatred. So what do you want to be when you grow up? What have we come to and where are we going? I’m not sure but a change is going to come.


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