Notes from the Bald Man: October 2018

When I was in college, I read a book by a famous poet. It was an odd book–at least I thought so at the time–about the power of naming a thing. The basic premise of the book was that if you were trying to make something from nothing, you had to put a name to the thing in question. No name, no existence, so the poet argued.  Without realizing it, I must have internalized that lesson. Whenever I am working on a new initiative, I get anxious if no name is attached. Even if the name changes, even if the first name I give the program is not great, I need a name for the project as soon as I start planning, so that it seems real to me.

A few months ago when Nevie started thinking through our Barrier Breaker program, we came up with the name. Not everyone will love it, but one thing I really do appreciate about it is that it describes quite succinctly not just what our monthly donors are doing, but also what all of us do every time we engage with a learner.

For my first year at LCMC, whenever I had the opportunity, I pushed the idea of community building to describe our mission. Partly, I did that because I felt that built into LCMC’s DNA was the need to bring educational opportunities to people who don’t always get them. But a year later, I realize that I have been getting ahead of where we are. How can one build community when so many of our neighbors are held back by barriers, like having to work three jobs, or not having adequate child care, or lacking good transportation?

As educators, we are not going to be able to fix or even mitigate some of these larger, social issues, but if we can get out into communities and not wait for folks to come to us, and if we can get some of these under-served adults learning, I would argue that the process of education can get at the most stubborn barrier that so many of our learners face: hopelessness.

I don’t know about you, but if you have ever helped a person learn something that was hard for him, it is almost like seeing a child at Disneyland.  It’s a gift–a gift for the educator, and more importantly, a gift for the learner. However, let’s not be mistaken: the gift is not so much the lesson mastered, it’s the sense of accomplishment, the sense that for that moment, the student can see more potential for herself than she could when she started the lesson.

I don’t want to be Pollyanna here. Hope is not enough to get at many of the systemic issues faced by over 10% of this county’s adult population. But a lot of good comes from helping folks see potential for themselves, and that newly found or rediscovered potential comes about through the hard work of educating and training.

Whether you decide to be a part of our Barrier Breaker Program or not, please know that every time you spend an hour with a student or give a little time in our office helping staff, or volunteering to proctor, you are a breaker of barriers for some folks in the county who are constantly facing obstacles to better lives.

The long game for LCMC is that we need to work towards creating an infrastructure for adult learners. Together, we have to make the case to political, corporate and civic leaders that adults, if they have the will, require time to better their skills, so they can better their lives. I will talk more about that long game and LCMC’s role in it over the months to come.

For now, it’s enough to say that we are breaking barriers, and we should be proud of that and put a name to what we do. To do otherwise, as that poet I read so long ago argued, would be to lessen, and even invalidate, the work we do week in and week out.

gabriel martinez