From the Trenches…Cynthia…She was Mad.
Cynthia is a sharp and somewhat feisty junior in high school or that’s what grade level her age says she should be. She came to our school as a junior, but had the education of a fifth grader. But, she was a quick learner and wanted to learn, which gave her an advantage over her peers, who largely lack that kind of desire.
Her greatest challenge though was not that she was farther behind in education than a junior should be, but that her mom was adamantly against her daughter getting an education. Her mother’s attempts to sabotage Cynthia increased each week.
Some days, Cynthia missed school due to her mom’s demands of her. Some days, Cynthia missed school, because her mom took her clothes. Sadly, some days, Cynthia missed school because off her mom’s drug habit and/or the abusive boyfriends her mom too often brought into her home.
Helping when parents do not
Our school works closely with a local charity with an excellent track record when it comes to helping needy kids. Part of their services included helping kids get out of dangerous households and into safer environments. For older kids, the safer environment usually equated to group homes and this is where Cynthia ended up living as needed.
Cynthia often returned to her home, when the boyfriends were gone and her mom was staying away from drugs. But, she inevitably ended up back at the group home on a somewhat regular basis.
As Cynthia progressed in school, her mom became more and more hostile towards Cynthia. Her mom was convinced that school could only lead to evil things and would eventually cause Cynthia to hate her mother and her family and become part of a despicable world that preyed upon poor people. Cynthia’s mom had only known or heard of bad things coming from those who succumbed to the biddings of the evil rich, who she believed were part of education and jobs.
As Cynthia progressed in school, her mom became more and more hostile towards Cynthia.
When Cynthia wanted to get a job, the hostility toward her escalated significantly. Her mother took Cynthia to a welfare office, where a kind office worker explained to Cynthia that Cynthia could not get a job or she would cause her family to lose all of their welfare benefits and could be the sole cause for making Cynthia, her mom and little sister homeless. But, back at the group home, Cynthia learned that a job would not cost her family those things, as Cynthia could earn money on her own without it affecting her mom or sister. The group home parents got enough proof of this for Cynthia to assure her she could get a part-time job and experience what earning money was like, something she really wanted to try.
Cynthia was incredibly proud of her first job, a part-time gig in food service. The job ended up costing Cynthia her home. Her mother threw her out and denied her any contact with her entire family. While all of this hurt Cynthia, she was quickly learning that her home life was not good for her and her goal became to get a high school diploma and get a better job, so she could eventually help her little sister have a better life.
A taste of success
It was a happy day for Cynthia when she graduated from our little school. She sat next to my wife at the graduation function our school hosted. She unabashedly told my wife her story. While it was clear that Cynthia was proud of her accomplishments, of rising from a bad situation to hold a job, even get a promotion at work, and graduate with good grades, there was another emotion Cynthia made very clear…
Cynthia spelled out her anger concisely. She felt the family and friends around her in her childhood railed against what they feared and recognized that they feared what they did not understand or know. Prior generations in her family had not worked or valued education and believed decades of stories those with education and jobs selling their souls to the faceless evil people they believed were out to abuse poor people. Her family and friends had come to believe lies about a world they had never experienced, a world that was too foreign to them. And, Cynthia was not shy about proclaiming the truth to anyone who would listen.
Cynthia was mad. And, her anger was understandable.
Cynthia never said that her life was easy. She worked hard and sometimes wished she did not have to struggle so much or work so hard. But, even though she saw her mother’s life as being easier than hers, she also saw that her mother’s life had not been good for her or her sister and didn’t think it was good for her mother.
Today, Cynthia is a reliable employee, who has risen to the position of manager for her employer. While she no longer blames her mother for the challenges she has overcome or is battling, Cynthia remains an outspoken inspiration for any peer willing to hear her. Cynthia does have a life of hard work and challenge ahead of her. She knows it. There are sometimes days when she wishes she could just give in to the pull of a life of having the government care for her, until she thinks about the troubling aspects of the life she left. She remains in contact with her sister and the two hope for their reunion one day.
I offer you the story of Cynthia to lend a perspective some have not considered and to share the picture of hope from the view of an inner-city high school student.
For the sake of confidentiality for my students, no actual names are used and I write under a pen name. Any similarities to this story and that of people you may know is coincidental.
About this Author ~
John Keating holds a masters in education and math and has taught for 15 years in public and private schools, along with several years at an inner-city charter school and drop-out recovery school. John also began an after-school introductory programming class and a chess club for interested students and has been known to play soccer with his students at the annual student-teacher game. His interests outside the classroom include golf, travel and rebuilding computers. John and his wife have two children in college and are active in their church youth ministry.