For the past ten years I have been making an annualpilgrimage west to New Mexico to visit my favorite person in the world. My grandmother, abuela as they say in the west, was everything to me. She gave me the space to find my own identityand she taught me to love books. It wasthrough the world of books, music, the theater and film that we escaped. We travelled all over the world withoutleaving her home. Through these literaryexperiences I was allowed my own interpretations right or wrong. I was allowedto explore both appropriate and possibly inappropriate stories. I revisited plays and films many times; Ienjoyed many well-worn copies of books. My grandmother made her exodus from the eastcoast long before I made mine. I only followed her footsteps and keep a tetherto my securities here at home. Icurrently live less than forty miles from my childhood home and have lived mylife in New England among many well intentioned but powerful forces around tomake certain that I was honorable, honest and a hardworking. Direct intentions were good influences butthese set pathways were difficult to diverge from, and became a source ofsecurity and suffocation. My educationwas shaped by many things but when I really try to answer the question, what made me a successful learner, I lookback at the many escapes I made to my grandmother’s homes. Each visit gave meroutine time to be alone. I had thespace to read, reflect and imagine. Dinner conversations over revolved aroundliterature and the issues in my life. She remarked on the similarities and differences our life experiencesgave us but she never told me what pathI had to follow. She would reminisceabout life in the Pre and Post World War II era which usually made my relativeworries less problematic. She usuallyreplied, “I can’t help ya kid, you are on your own but you have a great life,you will do just fine.”
We both travelled west overland having stood on the embankmentof the Mississippi, looking back as so many had done in their Conestoga wagonsor horses or Model Ts, feeling that sense of release, that sense of startinganew. Metaphorically this river was the embodimentof my east coast influence. The crossingwas the opportunities to make independent, intentional decisions regardless ofwhat was always followed.
After sixteen years of teaching in the same school system Irealize that there is no one formula for successful learning and yet, no oneever gives up trying to improve education. My intention for improvement will begin in August with my pilgrimage toNew Mexico. My abuela passed away leaving me her mission in literacy. She spenther Santa Fe years as a reading mentor in a program for public school childrenwho spoke English as a second language. She read with elementary children daily without judgment, listening,reading aloud and sharing stories. I will fill her absence and assist inadministration of the program. Thejourney west will begin in an air conditioned car in the direction of the SantaFe Trail. The journey actually began with interviews, readings on racism andunintentional bias in literacy. I teach in a predominantly ethnically whiteschool and I will be volunteering in a school that is multilinguistic andmulticultural. Research deplorably documents the high rate offailures for multicultural populations yet no research accepts failure asinevitable. What I assumed worked intraditional classrooms never actually worked for many students nationwide andwill not work when diversity increases in Vermont school systems. I hope that this experience will teach me howto provide more opportunities for success without being in control of every student’schoice in how they learn. I hope to return home having emulated my grandmother’sphilosophy.