My classroom has no windows. I never know the weather; I end up believing every day that the sky is the same grimy gray as the ceiling tiles. I get to school just as the sun peeks over the horizon through the smoggy haze, and catch my train back as dusk becomes shadows. There are six high schools in the same building as mine. The maze allows for little access to windows beyond barred stairwells. My school is on the fourth and top floor, meaning we have to climb up and down four flights of stairs and return through medal detectors if we want to have lunch outside. Monday through Friday I do not see the sun.
Instead, I see cement walls and fluorescent lights. I hear sterile whiteboards scream to be cleaned. I smell the students’ free breakfasts rotting between books, abandoned a few weeks prior. I feel harsh linoleum floors as I slip on tiles that haven’t been washed, really washed, with a mop and soap instead of dusting with a tired broom, since at least August. I have stayed after 6pm many days this year, and never have I seen a mop in my school. The custodial staff does wonders to clean the halls and classrooms, but they, like my students, lack the tools.
Experts say that the school to prison pipeline is real. I agree. Many schools set students up for failure and keep them away not out of malice but because they don’t have the resources for success. But schools prepare students for jail in many less obvious ways.
Schools bar entrances and exits. They call students with a bell and punish them for speaking their minds. They militarize passing times and regulate bathroom trips because can’t you just hold it for the three minutes we give you to get all the way across the school to your next class. The food is barely edible, their clothes uniform, their spirits broken instead of motivated. We replace their voices with Old Dead White Authors. What did Ernest Hemingway mean when he said, no I don’t care what you think about it. I don’t want your opinion I want the right answer and 500 words by tomorrow. I will show you how it works in the Real World. Schools take away individuality. They take away humanity. They take away windows.
I have a degree in English. Windows are one of the first metaphors students memorize: a passage to another world, an escape, a portal. A snapshot of what lies outside, a view into intimate spaces. They allow for alternatives, they present another option. These are all things that keep characters looking, hoping, dreaming, aspiring, for Better and Different. These are all things my students do not have.
My classroom has no windows. And I start to wonder if there really is a world outside that can offer more than cement walls and dirty boards and linoleum floors in desperate need of love. I start to wonder if my students feel it, too.