Flowers for the Easter Altar

This is the first of a series of farewell posts to this blog. The reasons behind that decision will be detailed in other posts. There are some things I want to say first. I don’t know how many posts or how long this will take. This one is a story about my mother.
In 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, my parents were involved in an effort to get food, clothes and shelter to those people on the west side of Chicago who lost everything in the destruction that followed. My parents’ activism was rooted in the Catholic Social Action tradition. We attended a suburban parish where their work both found much support and inspired obscene phone calls, filled with racist language, letters and other personal attacks (the callers on occasion directed their hate at me and my brother if we happened to answer the phone – so I learned about being attacked by idiots early on).
As you may remember, Dr. King was killed shortly before Easter. My parent’s desire to help those in need was one with their faith, their understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic. So the natural thing for them to do was to ask permission to collect money to help the relief effort outside of Church after Mass. The Monsignor refused, with the explanation that they were already scheduled to collect money for flowers to place on the altar Easter morning. My mother argued (correctly) that Christ’s mission was better served by helping people in need than by decorating the altar of a suburban church. The Monsignor wouldn’t budge. Neither would my mother. The meeting ended in an impasse.
Sunday morning, my mother was on the corner collecting money for those in need. My brother and I were with her. We saw people give generously and express support and we saw people sneer and mutter ugly things as they passed. The Monsignor sent a young Priest to remove her. She refused. She had learned the lessons of non-violent direct action. She stayed till the end. My mom taught me a lot and gave me much to be proud of.
My educational priorities have been the topic of discussion here lately. This story helps me explain them. I look around our district and see the equivalent of those who lost everything in the riots of 1968. I want to help them get what they need. I also look around this district and see people working to get what I consider to be the educational equivalent of flowers for the Easter altar. I like flowers on the Easter altar; I wish MMSD could afford to give every student everything they desire. I respect (most of) these people for their willingness to work for what they believe in, for what they think is best for the schools. They might be surprised to learn (even though I’ve said this on this blog before) that I strongly believe MMSD should offer some advanced programming, some AP classes, some talented and gifted programming, some arts education… These are all things that I classify as needs. I also distinguish needs from desires. I don’t put my efforts in these areas (yet) because there are already very able advocates and because I don’t believe that in MMSD we have reached that hard to define line that divides needs from desires. I can’t define that line, but I will say that there is a difference in the long term good or harm produced by funding or cutting programs that do their best to educate and create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all and programs that offer a second year of calculus for high achieving high school students. If the first year of calculus is on the cutting block, you may find me fighting alongside the TAG advocates.
Stay tuned for more.

One thought on “Flowers for the Easter Altar”

  1. Once again the position of most TAG advocates is misunderstood. What many of us would like to see are programs which actually try to identify and serve ALL talented and gifted kids, not just those who have the good luck to be born to parents who are well-educated themselves and have the financial resources to help them be challenged outside of school if necessary. It is precisely the children you mention, who have no books or even homes, who are being most underserved now by MMSD’s almost nonexistent TAG programs. They are the ones who would benefit most from being nurtured and encouraged at an early age, so that they might actually make it to Calculus.

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