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    Education Is a Journey and Not a Destination

    student student2By Lyndsey Schlax

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts recently taught the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course, according to district officials. She will resume teaching that groundbreaking class next fall. This semester, she is teaching a new Ethnic Studies course. It is a popular elective among the school’s Social Science offerings. In this column, students from her class will be anonymously sharing with the San Francisco Bay Times their thoughts about related matters, and what they are learning. Today, however, Schlax writes about what led to her interest in Ethnic Studies.)

    Ethnic Studies was one of the first classes I took when I started college at UC Berkeley, and it changed both my outlook on the world and my life path.

    I’d wanted to study history for as long as I could remember. My 8-year-old self would walk to the library once a week, and return with stacks of books I could barely balance, eager to dive into stories of Irish immigrants and Polish freedom fighters, of American Girl dolls on the home-front during World War II, or establishing a homestead in Minnesota, or helping to found the United States. I saw myself in those stories, and so when we learned about history in school, I was thrilled to know more.

    Tell me about factory workers in New York City! Teach me about the little Dutch girl who hid Jewish refugees in her home during the Third Reich. If Dorothy Gale had been real, and from Wisconsin, she could have been my grandmother, so I devoured The Wizard of Oz in book form and film, and explored the Great Depression whenever possible in school. School, and history, in particular, helped me to understand my world and myself. It was thrilling, enlightening, and inspiring; I wanted more. When I graduated from high school, there was no doubt that I would be a history major with a big side of political science, please!

    Education changed for me, forever, at Berkeley. For the first time, I began learning stories that weren’t my own. What had felt like a wealth of knowledge about the past and how it connected to the present was suddenly shown to be a mere pittance. The realization of how little I knew, how narrow my worldview was, struck me as startling and uncomfortable. I had no idea at the time, but I had just learned one of the central themes of my teaching this year: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

    There’s a theory called the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” which proposes, in part, that the less a person knows, the more likely they are to suffer from something called “illusory superiority,” or the mistaken belief that they are smarter and more well rounded than they really are. This was absolutely me upon leaving high school, but Ethnic Studies changed everything.

    My professors introduced me to Toni Morrison, Mario Savio, hegemony and feminism. I took a class with Ron Takaki and the whole world opened up and flooded with color and connections and questions, in so many ways. I didn’t know the word for it then, but I began to be able to see and consider intersectionality. I began to learn just how much I didn’t know. I sought out classes on Japanese History, Women’s Studies, Comparative Politics, religions, cultures, art, and stories that were not my own. I learned, I listened, and I thought I’d figured it all out and was ready to begin to pass on all that knowledge to others. I became a teacher and yet forgot something from Confucius I’d been told by an amazing TA in my second Ethnic Studies class: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

    This year, that amazing bit of wisdom has come back to me full circle, and has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was 8, or 18. Knowing that my students needed the opportunity to have an education that reflected their own stories, I set out to teach two classes I’d never taught before: LGBTQ Studies and Ethnic Studies. I thought I knew enough, and that I could pass on the knowledge I had and that my students would benefit from that.

    Once again, though, the vastness of what I didn’t know I didn’t know opened up acbefore me; only this time, I was the teacher. I was the one in charge of the learning, and if I stood still, awestruck by the wondrousness and awfulness and vividness of the lived experiences of people of color and the LGBTQ community, as I had in Berkeley, I would fail the very people who had inspired me to teach these classes. I therefore studied.

    My entire summer was spent immersed in books and films, interviews and podcasts, museums, TV shows, old newspapers and articles. I began to learn the story of San Francisco, of my chosen home, in ways that I’d never thought of before. It was exhausting. It still is, and I’m still learning, and I hope this time I’ll never stop remembering that education isn’t a destination. I’ll never know enough, but if I’m careful and never complacent, I might be able to inspire my students to ask tough questions, and will carefully listen to the answers. I will give them tools with which to seek out knowledge outside the familiar and comfortable, beyond where my lessons end.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/