Songs of Freedom, at Masterman High in Philadelphia

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I took the story of the Berlin Wall to Philadelphia's academic magnet school, Masterman—meeting with the students of two exquisite and clearly well-respected history teachers, Liz Taylor and Janel Vecsi.

In the Spring Garden neighborhood, inside a circa-1876 building that has inspired filmmakers and hosted President Obama, we talked about risks, responsibilities, and choices. I met students with a personal tie to East Berlin. Students who knew history and the world around them. Students who watch the news out of curiosity and not out of an assignment. Students who work extremely hard at school and at home—and excel. Students who willingly make art and share it. We hear about the terrible struggles of the School District of Philadelphia. We meet and write about the teachers who work so hard under difficult circumstances. Then we hang out with the students themselves and are (again) reminded how important this teaching enterprise is, how necessary it is to get it right, for them.

I came home with a fat file of graffiti art and poetry. What do you want that you do not have? I'd asked the students, after sharing Wall stories, playing Bruce Springsteen, reading from Going Over. What separates you from your dreams or those you love? What is the cost of desire? What are the consequences of change? What are the lessons of the Wall?

And student after student thoughtfully answered. A mere sampling:

I know why the caged bird sings
because I am that caged bird.
My wings are clipped,
my legs are tied,
yet, I will still warble in
this dark, pressing night.
I will walk up to this barrier,
this solid thing that embodies
all forms of constriction.
I don't care, I will fly,
my ropes are loosening,
my wings are growing.
The bird knows its risks.
Yet it flies, it flies.
The bird has one
thing that I cannot attain:
Freedom is on the other side.
Will I jump?
I know why the caged bird sings.
He's telling me to jump.

It's safe to stay where I am.
That's what people say, at least.
It's too risky
To risk the distance,
Defy the borders.
Your life is fine here, easy.
But I don't live to feel fine.
I live to feel alive.
To do what I want to do.
To pursue freedom.
To chase my own dreams.
I don't live to listen to washed-up lyrics
Written by tyrants.
I live to dream.
To dance.
To dare.

Walls separate
Mentally, physically, emotionally...
On one side, ideals.
The other, truth.
People have ideals,
A set mind on how they
Want to live.
But then there is the truth.
How they are living ...
If there ideal is their truth
There would be no wall.

The cost of desire is terror—
the Terror you feel when change occurs,
when it does not turn out the way you thought.
like you wanted it to.
You do not know what answer you will get.
What feelings you will have.
What the long-term outcome will be.
But you try and you try
And you hope change will go your way.

They protect but also confine.
They keep out the bad but
also the good.
They protect us from the outside world
but also block us from the outside.
So break down the walls
and let yourself free.
Because the walls can't protect you forever.
And when they break,
make sure you're ready.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper II by 2008

Back to TOP