Alex Haley wrote, “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good and praise it.” As I look around at the contentious relationships making the rounds in our government and in the education arena, it strikes me that we‘d solve a whole lot of problems by simply applying Haley’s statement. When I listen to the vitriolic, vituperative exchanges taking place daily between the members of the legislature and the president and the conversations between the mayor of New York City teacher’s union, it is clear they’ve never ever heard this quote, (and even if they have, they have no intention of applying it!).
A great quote asserts that the reason people do what is wrong, rather than doing what is right is because the wrong thing seems so much easier. Maybe that’s the way it is with applying Haley’s statement. Maybe the problem with “finding the good and praising it” is that it is so much easier to condemn, defame, belittle, denigrate and insult than it is to say, “It’s not perfect, but your effort is good. Let’s build on that!” When you listen to the mayor, from the time he entered the office of the mayor, he said teachers were inept, incompetent, unconcerned with the education of their students, and only concerned with keeping their jobs. This despite the fact that he’d never once spoken to any teachers, never sat in any teacher’s classroom, this despite the fact that before he became the mayor and was granted total control of New York City schools had produced students who became authors, doctors, teachers, principals, assistant principals, lawyers school chancellors, CEO’s, Wall Street workers, musicians, professional athletes and a whole lot more. Did this happen for every single student and every single school? Of course not, any more than it happens or will happen at every charter school and/or small school the mayor has or will create or endorse! Truth to tell every student doesn’t graduate from Harvard, or Yale, or Bronx Science, or Stuyvesant, or Hunter High School, either. The fact that something good did come out of public schools means something and somebody was working and that means there is something that was worthy of praise, that there was something good he should have found to praise.
Although today, I may be a poet some people regard as pretty good, when I started, I wasn’t really very good at it. A great teacher I had at Hunter College, Professor Fred Bornhauser, read my early efforts. Looking back now on my early work, even I would have to say there wasn’t a whole lot there. He could have said, “You need to find some other interest kid, ‘cause this ain’t makin’ it!”, instead, he looked for the good and praised it, telling me my writing was very “cinematic”. Today, my work has been published and featured in magazines such as Essence and anthologies like Beyond the Frontier. I doubt that any of that would have happened without Professor Bornhauser’s having been smart enough to see that while I may not have been Langston Hughes, or the next June Jordan, or Ethelbert Miller, or Sonia Sanchez, or Robert Frost, there was something good in what I wrote, and it was worthy of being praised.
Nothing is perfect and I guess we can make anything better, but even when things may not be as good as they could or should be, there is still something worth finding that is good, and praising it.