An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum
Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor.
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat’s eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
Of twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,
His lesson from his desk. At back of the dim class
One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel’s game, in the tree room, other than this.
On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,
Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
Children, these windows, not this world, are world,
Where all their future’s painted with a fog,
A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky,
Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.
Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, and the map a bad example
With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal–
For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.
Unless, governor, teacher, inspector, visitor,
This map becomes their window and these windows
That shut upon their lives like catacombs,
Break O break open ’till they break the town
And show the children green fields and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books, the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.
Education, the great equaliser
Written in 1964, the poem reflects a class- conscious society and captures the poet’s stand on social inequality. It also reflects Spender’s belief, that education can be the great equaliser.
I believe in it too. However, over the years I have realised that education means different things to different people. For some, it is about the grades, about the institute, about the prestige and the accompanying opportunities. Perhaps, it is all of that and I especially agree about the opportunities, but for me, education is also about learning to learn, learning to question and striving towards answers. This quest of knowledge is the great equaliser and the confidence it provides is the harbinger of opportunities. We must, therefore, allow children, whether rich or poor, to have an access to education. Education, I believe, brings about a social change.
So, teach, help out or volunteer. Support the organisations that have endeavoured to educate all. The only way for a society to move ahead, is to move together.
Organisations to support
* Student Care Service (Hougang, Clementi and Yishun) work with government agencies, national organizations, community groups and business corporations to support and help marginalized students and youths at-risk.
* MILK (Mainly I Love Kids) Fund reaches out to disadvantaged children and youth, both in Singapore and overseas, in the hope of developing them into contributing members of society.
* MILK OF LIFE is a Thai NGO that helps impoverished families and their children.
* Teach For India is a nationwide movement of college graduates and professionals, working towards educational equality in India.
* Make A Difference (MAD): Along with education partner, Cambridge University Press, Make A Difference or MAD has initiated a unique project ‘The English Project’ to educate children from poor homes, orphanages and street shelters.
* Pratham: Established in the year 1994, Pratham is dedicated to provide education to children belonging to the slums of Mumbai.
* Godhuli is a Charitable Society for the Education & Welfare of Street Children.
I am currently involved in a project that involves children, involves writing and involves an entire nation. I marvel at the creativity and maturity of these young children and I am assured….the future is in the right hands.
More about that in my next post.