New Poem: Education vs. Reality / by Shanelle Gabriel

One of the most common questions

Students ask me

Next to can I use the bathroom 

Or is this required 


Like “Ms. Shanelle, tell me. Is this stuff we actually need”

Now ask a math teacher they’ll sing of the 

Pythagorim theory

And that length times width times height 

Helps you decorate your apartment right

“nah miss. I can eyeball and tell if a couch can fit.”

Ask a Social studies teacher

They’ll say study the past because it’s bound to repeat

“But the market crashed mad times and we still put our faith in Wall Street”

Ask a Science teacher 

And they’ll say you need to understand biology

“My momma taught me the birds and the bees. 

We don’t grow our own food

My block has like one tree

Is it really important to learn about life cycles

And plant cells versus the cells in me”

I have to laugh

Because these are the students with a 0.3

1.0 and 1.5 GPA

They have a point

What can I say

I know I’m speaking to the students 

Who feel textbooks might as well be bars

Who feel trapped between bending to the system

and being who they are

Who in any other world would be academic stars

But they’ve been assigned to my makeshift class

So I ask 

Well what to you want to learn?

Nastasia pauses

Cracks the silence with her gum

Then they chime in at once


What’s real to a 16 year old?

Only the things they’ve seen

So they ask how to get an apartment 

The difference between credit and debit cards

They ask if blacks back then were ONLY slaves

Never heard of Black Wall Street

Never heard the history of their community 

That Flatbush was once a battleground 

Not just for Bloods and Crips

Or Deceps 

They ask for help with resumes

And Nia who stays 

On her phone doesn’t know there’s a way

To sync her life to her calendar to aid her in not being late

Teaching them reality 

Fuses what we believe they need 

With the world they see

Doesn’t confuse culturally responsive

With cultural relevancy

Doesn’t confuse learning students using actual facts

With “I want to relate to my students so I take a hip hop dance class”

True story

An educator told me that

I spend the first week asking them who they are

While sharing who I am

Try to merge the world they know

What when they need to understand 

Show them the skill they have

Can transfer in and out the class

Like Ricky’s ability to make people laugh

Will be the same thing that closes deals

And believe it or not 

Grace’s eye rolls relate to her ability

To call it as she sees it

To keep everyone accountable

And I swear Mark could talk the 

The devil back into heaven 

While he doesn’t his future as a lawyer planned

The reality is 

We think they have so much to offer later

When they have all these neglected tools right now

The reality is learning goes both ways

Our young people have so much to tap into 

We just need to take the time to learn how