The Walls We Build, The Walls We Tear Down

Musings: Classroom and Car, February 9th, 2018

          I’ve been walking around with a piece of the Berlin Wall in my purse today, a gift from my cousin Susan back in the ‘80s. It has lived in my kitchen cabinet in all of my homes. Though I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why at the time, a conversation with my students the other day got me musing. Beyond being an important piece of history, and beyond being a reminder of the relationship my cousin and I established in our early life, I think it has always been  a touchstone for me, a reminder to keep an open mind, to allow people into my life, and to be cognizant of local and national policies that run antithetical to these practices. 

          I have not thought about my piece of the wall in recent memory, until today. My students were using novels and nonfiction books to closely examine sentence craft, and I stopped at a group who was looking at books from a box I had labeled War and Struggles for Social Justice, when E. asked me about the Berlin Wall, which was on the cover of a book in front of him.  We went through the typical “wasn’t it this” and “didn’t it happen then” questions, and we talked about the -isms that caused the rift between the two sides of Germany. I told them the story of Susan visiting the wall while she was in Europe just after it came down and the piece of it that I had at home. Someone said, “There was Europe tearing down its walls, and here in the U.S. we’re putting them up. Ridiculous!”

          I considered the four students at the table. They’d each told me at various times what they planned for the future or had shown me who they were through their actions with others in class: E., the future immigration lawyer hiding behind a veil of machismo, smart remarks and clapback; J., the future optometrist or ER doctor (he’s not sure which) who has yet to find his voice; C., always willing to lend a hand,  a strategist and philosopher if I’ve ever met one, whose anxiety compels him to shred paper, pens, pencils or any object he can tear; and J., E.’s long time friend and soccer mate and savior of assignments, the thinker behind E.’s action.  

          The current policies that our government is implementing would mean I would never have had the opportunity to meet these students. It would have kept some of their families from our community, just as it will keep others like them from sharing their ideas, their bravery, their leadership and their insight with us. Current immigration policies have sent and will send some families packing, at times toward life-threatening situations and poverty. While rules guiding immigration status are a necessary part of governing, as is boarder patrol, knee-jerk reactions and overzealous policing do more harm and stifle progress. They will keep incredible hearts and minds like those of my students from becoming a part of our collective story, and that burden will be ours to bear. 

          The proposed wall is ridiculous. As of January 2018, most of U.S. opposes it. Let’s spend $70 billion dollars on children. That kind of funding would help public schools in the U.S. truly expand our students’ worlds and would go a long way in facilitating global perspective and citizenship, as well as fostering empathy and collaboration beyond our boarders. There is not a child alive that does not deserve opportunities to expand their horizons, both by access to other countries through travel, and interaction with people who are allowed access to citizenship here. 

        Germany tore down a wall after years of stifling the flow of people, innovations, and ideas between its separate halves, but here,  in the U.S., the government is building walls every day with debilitating policies. They hope to build a physical one in the near future. Ridiculous!


A piece of the Berlin Wall circa 1989