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Classrooms are like “Community Dining”

August 9th, 2018

California…

Like many Phoenicians, my family and I took refuge, trading in our hectic lives played out in 112 degrees for cool breezes, beach umbrellas, crab bakes and summer fun for one week.

We were ocean-side in Oceanside, hit Laguna, Dana Point, star gazed Hollywood style, hung out at Venice beach and more Oceanside. I watched my kids ride waves on boogie boards, take pictures with a wax Marilyn Monroe, and bark along with sea lions in our rented boat.

There is a reason why I’m making you read the written version of a family vacation slide show. While all these activities were a slice of heaven, it paled in comparison to the most wonderful part of our trip, the people. You see, it’s been two years since my last trip to California. This time, I saw things I have never noticed before and felt compelled to share.

California reminds me of New York. I’m a New Yorker and when 8.5 million people share 300 square miles of real estate (with 44% Caucasian and the other 55+% made up of every other possible nationality) they need to find a way to get along, and New Yorkers do! Not only do they get along they understand it’s their differences that makes the city stronger, better, and because of its eclectic nature, they thrive.

While in Venice Beach we observed two very entertaining pick-up basketball games. No more than any 2 players knew each other. Teams were made up of young black men, a very vocal older Hispanic male, 2 very tall white kids who could jump, and everything in between, including an older Morgan Freeman lookalike that had me a bit worried until I saw him hit some “3s” (Uncle Drew?) and a homeless man acting as referee. These strangers, ranging from kids to men, in seconds formed teams worthy of ticket sales. They worked together as a team, quickly assessing each other’s strengths, using them effectively. Results-high level, high energy, extremely entertaining games where everyone from participants to spectators had a blast.

Later that night I had the best people watching experience at the local Asian Food restaurant waiting for the best Chinese food I’ve had in years. As I waited, I saw something I forgot existed. With a place this crowded and with so many singles filing in and out, you can’t get a table, you get a seat. Strangers asked each other, “Is this seat taken?” and welcomed each other to share a table. I saw Bohemian free spirits, with dancers, with musicians, with students, with tourists, with rappers, with families, with dog lovers. All so different, all the same, all sharing a meal, a single experience, enjoying their new friends. Not since New York have I seen community dining and remembered how intoxicating it was to go out not knowing who you might meet, from where, and what you would learn from each other.

While this may not be representative of the entire state, my personal observation was that California had unilaterally declared war on racism, all things non-biodegradable, and carbs! I admit that last bit was a challenge for this rice loving girl. I witnessed scene after scene of something that transcends acceptance, it was preferred. Everyone brings something new to the table and together they make it better.

The classroom reminds me of community dining. When we look to make changes that bring us together, we as an education community can start here. We need to do all we can to support different people from different backgrounds to share in this common experience. Education is a leveler for a reason, it tells you to leave your differences at the door, here we are all the same. The beautiful part is that once you let go of the fear of “different” you become drawn to it. It creates an open mind, for open experiences, and leaves you better. Once someone is open to it, they live life asking “Is this seat taken?”

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