Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Clinic At The Meeting Place Of Nations

The Meeting Place: The meeting place of nations is now not very far from most Americans. It can be found in most large cities, especially those located on the east and west coasts. There one will find immigrant populations from many nations, many of whom are arriving in the United States with very few material possessions. The narrow-minded among us blame these immigrants for their poverty. But the truth is that many immigrants are coming here because the things that were valuable to them in their homelands – land, freedom, self-determination, and natural resources – are being taken from them by American corporations and American military might in order to maintain a lavish lifestyle for privileged Americans. In their poverty, these immigrant populations are being joined by an increasing number of Americans who have recently been forced out of their privileged positions by people higher up on the ladder of privilege. Poverty is a great integrator.

The Clinic: Over the last year, I became acquainted with some people who like practicing charity. Some might view their passion as a hobby. They are, after all, as passionate about it as other people are about model trains, snowboarding, or restoring classic cars. They, however, look at it as doing what their Boss has commanded.

Their latest charity is something they're doing with their church. Over a year ago, the church encountered a family who live in an apartment complex in one of the low-income parts of the city where the church is located. In the process of befriending this family, the members discovered that the children of this family were not being well served by the school district in which they live. Those who live in the city where this church is located would not be surprised at this fact, in light of the general failure of the city's public school system to educate children of color and immigrants from developing countries. The educational plight of the children of this particular family motivated some of the members of the church to form a team to visit the apartment complex on a weekly basis for scholastic tutoring sessions.

The team uses various on-line free educational resources in their efforts. Most of these resources consist of public-domain PDF books that can be freely copied and distributed. Many of these e-books were created by volunteers associated with Copian (formerly the National Adult Literacy Database), a non-profit agency which was directly funded by the Canadian Government until June of this year. (As an aside, Copian was a truly remarkable group of people, whose members wrote a large number of free math, reading and ESL, and parenting books for immigrants and aboriginal populations in Canada. As I said, they were de-funded this year. And I think the reason they were de-funded is that first, what they were offering for free was really valuable. This was probably perceived as a threat to the potential profits of some rich capitalist. Second, I think that the powers that be may have seen Copian as being a little too successful in lifting marginalized populations through access to education. I think that neoliberal greed from south of the border has now contaminated Canada. Just my suspicion, I suppose. But I digress.)

The Clinicians: They are an interesting lot. The pastor of the church is one of the tutors, and he is well-qualified to teach, not only because he has a master's degree in Divinity, but because he is also a math nerd who likes building his own computers. His cohorts include two people with degrees in technical fields who work in technical design, and one college professor. Yet these are not typical pocket-protector types; one of them freely admits that hanging out with kids is a refreshing change from being stuck with grown-ups all day.

This team has created an educational clinic – a clinic at the meeting place of nations. Their clients consist of children from Asia, Mexico, the African continent, and the United States. The clinic is self-selecting, in the sense that while the clinicians are willing to take anyone who walks in the door, those people who can't stand to be with people who are different from them are not likely to walk in. Thus the clients tend to be more pleasant to work with than many Americans.

The Clients: They truly do seem to be special people. Special in the way that many kids are special: endearingly goofy even when they are not trying to be. Special because they don't “know” that they're special – in other words, they are not constantly full of their own self-importance. Special because, not being full of themselves, they have an accurate understanding of their place in the world, and of the fact that they must share the world with everyone else, and that this sharing involves saying “Please,” and “Thank you,” and waiting one's turn for things. Special in that they spontaneously share things with each other. Special in that they're “easy to fix.”

To illustrate this last point, let me use a metaphor. These kids are “technicals” – that is, tough, simple (but not stupid!), and easy to diagnose. And when they're angry or unhappy, it's possible to quickly get to the root of their problem and provide a solution. In contrast, many upwardly mobile people in this country (along with many who want to pretend to be upwardly mobile) are like a BMW. BMW's are supposed to be the “ultimate driving machine,” yet they are almost never seen in places where they're not likely to be pampered – places like the back roads of a developing country, for instance – because they are complicated and expensive to fix and maintain, as are many Americans and other native-born First World citizens.

These kids are easy to motivate if you offer them munchies as a reward for a night of working hard at learning. (But give 'em something healthy! Not Cheetos and Takis!) The tutors have connected strongly with them. Tutors and students have coalesced into a motivated team. They have also become an example of the sort of arrangements ordinary citizens will have to make in an age of disappearing social safety nets and continued cuts in government services – cuts made by free-market capitalists who have captured governments in order to cannibalize the citizens who are supposed to be served by those governments. When the “government” no longer provides any services except the supply of uniformed men to commit violence in the name of the “government,” the real job of governing falls on ordinary citizens. Those who serve their fellow human beings become the new “government.”

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