When I look into the face of a student, I see a human face. As an educator in schools there’s a feeling of responsibility that pulls on me to preserve their humanity, partly by my own efforts to make things fair and keep them safe in school and partly by helping them learn the skills to make things fair and keep themselves safe when they enter the “real” world. How to be faithful to the whole of a child’s current being and future potential is the daunting task all educators face. Even under perfect conditions this task is difficult enough. Under the conditions of the education system we find ourselves in this task is all too often impossible.
The multitude of problems in the school system leads any caring educator to ask larger questions about why things are the way they are. “Life’s not fair” is one answer, one we tell ourselves as often as we tell our students. If we don’t see agency in ourselves or in others, accepting the problems of the existing world as inevitable can be the first step in hardening ourselves and others as a strategy for mental and biological survival. “Life’s not fair, but…” accepts the world as it is in the present but makes space for the possibility of the world to be changed in the future.
When an educator looks a student in the eye, what about their economic relationship shapes what the educator sees? The educator is paid to be there and the student is compelled to be there to learn skills and get credentials that they’ll need later to get a job. These are partly class relations, relations of people in specific economic positions who encounter each other in the context of larger economic systems.