We Are Kindling Schist because in U.S. education, "it was always burning." Read. Comment. Submit.


The boy was so irritating to me. He was often sent to me in my role as disciplinarian. Last year it seemed that only I could calm him down, reason enough with him to get him to go back to class, and get him to focus at least minimally. This year, his behavior was better, but he still seemed madly unmotivated. The third grade teacher decided we should get him tested. Because the mother spoke little English, it was my job to fill out the paperwork.

I had always known that this family had some problems, but I was hardly prepared for the mother’s revelations as she shared her son’s history, part of what is required to get a child tested for learning disability or psychological problems. It was a history of abuse and courage and difficult decisions on the part of the mother.

The boy had been born in Central America. To protect his identity, I’ll use the name Paco. The mother was married, but the abusive husband left her when he found out she was pregnant. After Paco was born, she had to figure some way to make a living. She decided to come to the United States. She left Paco with her brother and his wife. She somehow made her way up through Mexico and into the United Sates, not as an illegal, but as an undocumented person. (I’m on my soapbox: How can we call them illegals? They don’t know or understand all our laws.)

She worked in this country for two years and sent money for Paco’s support. But Paco missed her and cried every day. The uncle called her to complain that Paco was often sick. The mother went back to get the child. She decided to take him to the United States, and literally swam across the Rio Grande with Paco, who was two years old. She eventually ended up in a southern city.

Unfortunately, the mother connected with a man, who fathered two more children with her. They tried living together, but he was sometimes abusive and treated Paco badly since the child wasn’t his. She finally found the courage to leave him and now works at survival wages. In telling me this history, she told me that she has not been a strong woman and has made many mistakes. I so disagree. She is strong, surviving as a single parent. She has made decisions that are always in favor of her children, including putting her children in a private school. She is one of the most motivated persons I have ever met.

I can no longer be irritated with Paco. If it were not inappropriate, I would hug him often. I understand all too well that his struggles are because of great challenges in his life. He is not unmotivated, but probably trying to make sense of a scary and confusing world. It is hard for him to trust. The question hangs there: How do we define “motivated?” Surely Paco has much to teach this professional educator about motivation, as does his mother.

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