By Bob Shimabukuro, Retiree Advocate Associate Editor and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board
I can’t breathe #1: Getting personal with asthma.
1950-51: We drove up to a small hospital emergency entrance just outside Manoa Valley. I had a hard time breathing. Dad ran into the emergency ward. He came back to the car in a little while. I heard him mention “Childrens Hospital.” He talked with Mom a bit, and we drove to another hospital.
Someone carried me into the emergency room, placed me on a wheeled bed, took me to a room and laid me on a bed under a tent. I remember two words were spoken: “asthma,” “oxygen.”
For the first time in I don’t know how many hours, I didn’t have to struggle to breathe. Didn’t even have to breathe, it seemed. Thought this must be heaven. I was five at the time.
I can’t breathe #2: Social cost of asthma.
2014: The South Bronx, to cite just one example, has notoriously high asthma rates—and according to one study, a staggering 21.8 percent of children living in New York City public housing have asthma, three times higher than the rate for private housing. The choking of those children is not as immediately lethal as the kind of choking that stole Eric Garner’s life, but it is very real nonetheless. —Naomi Klein, The Nation, “Why #Black Lives Matter Should Transform the Climate Debate.”
I can’t breathe #3: Choking off the spirit.
1950-51 Manoa Valley near the the Chinese cemetery: I was upset and crying. Mom carried me outside into our yard, humming a tune as she gently rocked me. I learned quickly that the more I cried, the harder it was to breathe. I stopped crying. I have rarely cried since. In fact, I learned that any extreme motion or emotion makes it more difficult to breathe. Laughing, talking, singing, exercising, or getting angry, elated, and excited made it more difficult to breathe.
All that was left about being human to me, was thinking, listening, and daydreaming. And avoidance of extremes that could alter my breathing.
I can’t breathe #4: Those who can, teach. Those who can’t teach, make laws about teaching.
When we cut off one’s access to air, water, or food, we kill. When we choke off emotion, thoughts, ideas and dreams, we also kill. The spirit, that is. A spiritual death occurs. In elementary school, I taught, I learned, I skipped school because of asthma.
I can’t breathe #5: 1951, Miss Alapai’s first grade class: “Bob, go outside with K, A, and C, Go show ’em how fo’ read. Help them out, okay?”
1952, Miss Miyasaki’s second grade class, after I spent weeks at home, yet whizzed the Weekly Reader test which had placed me at 9th grade level reading comprehension: “Bob, can you help C, P, E and S.? Tutor them in their reading, okay?”
In a letter to my oldest brother Tom, Dad wrote, “As for Bob, his teacher always say, he so smart, he teach himself.”
That made me think I was really smart and started telling people what to do. Until one day, after school, I got a wake-up call. A classmate came up to me and said, “You think you’re smart? Well, think about this!” And he punched me in the gut. Hard. I went down; I couldn’t breathe. He laughed and walked away.
I concluded, “People don’t like being told what to do. That’s just not a good way to teach.”
I can’t breathe #6: 1950-51. Education is a lifelong proposition.
Dad: “Schools are for learning all kind stuff. But folks learn at home, outside, at friends house, at relatives house. All over get good teachers & bad teachers. Bad teachers no tell the truth, some don’t even know the truth. They no tell you about Opium War, Spice War, Banana War, Indian wars, slavery, unions, bosses, plantations.”
I can’t breathe #7: Even after retire, can make things bettah.
Dad: Can educate yourself. Read. Think. World crazy sometimes. People need think about changing world. Even if world okay, maybe still need change. Make things bettah. That’s what education for. Make things bettah fo’ everybody.
I can’t breathe #8: Raise the level of consciousness.
Zenwa Uncle: Everybody learn dis ‘n dat all the time, from baby time to die time.
Dad: When (you) stop learning, (you) die. Brain is for learning (how to continue the species). When no can think any more, die (physically).
But all we learn is passed on. That’s why important to have young folks, old folks together. Old folks at least know what doesn’t work.
I can’t breathe #9: The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind.
The 1960s: What was really blowing in the wind was just another punch in the gut that slowly sucked all the air out of us. We are in a worse position in social, economic, and racial equality.
We need to pick ourselves up and get ready to fight.
I can’t breathe #10: Education is the answer.
That’s what Dad (Zenshu) and Zenwa Uncle used to say. It wasn’t until I read Grace Lee Boggs that I realized that they were also referring to more personal and personalized education directed to the student. Start with what the child knows and wants to know and go from there. Make learning enjoyable. Work together with other children and adults. Other people.
Junior High time:
“Bob, can borrow your notes?”
“No, never take notes. Was sick. Had the book. Read the book.”
“Oh, man! Next time take notes when you read ’em. Den I can look at ’em, too.”
I can’t breathe #11. What would Arne Duncan say?
What would Arne & Bill Gates say? Or Common Core? Or Race to the Top?
They don’t know the truly important things about teaching, about learning and education. They haven’t a clue of what happens to a child who is eager to learn, only to find that he/she is punished for what he doesn’t know, rather than credited for what he knows about surviving a very challenging environment. Yet, they still are calling the shots for education. They are trying to replicate the extreme damage they have already done to the world and to the people who inhabit that world, and extend it to our last hope, our children and grandchildren
For Eric Garner, may you rest in peace.
For the rest of us choking, literally and spiritually, we know that we cannot rest in peace. We must remain cool, calm, and collected, and act only when we are strong, all of us, together. We know we must make allies. While we accept the fact that some of us will not see the “new world,” we also know that collectively we will overcome. Let’s catch a breath, then keep moving.