BY RUTH BRELSFORD
An open apology to the students I taught for 29 years:
To the girls I admonished to use your brains, not your sexuality, to succeed: I guess I was wrong. No one cares about your brains or your experience. I’m sorry.
To the college boys I taught that “No means No” and respect for women is no joke: I hate to admit it, but I guess I was wrong. Boys will be boys. Sorry about that.
To the Dreamers I encouraged to dream on; you can do it; I will dream with you: Oops! I was wrong. Lo siento!
To the women I counseled to leave your abusive husbands, to get an education for yourselves and your kids, assuring you that you do have a voice in our society: I guess I was wrong, I’m so sorry.
To the suburban high school students I taught not to bully people with disabilities: I was wrong! It’s all in fun! No one really cares. I’m sorry, OK? Get over it.
To the honors students I led to establish a recycling program on our junior college campus because climate change is real and it is important that we do our part: I guess I was wrong, mea culpa.
To the athletes I urged to use your brains and not cheat – you are more than a basketball/baseball/soccer player: I guess I was wrong. Cheating works. Sorry, my bad.
To the young black men I taught to respect me through my respect for you: I hope I’m not wrong. I do believe “black lives matter.” I’m sorry that not everybody does.
To the LGBTQ students I comforted through the years, promising that someday you will be free to love the person you love, openly and without fear: I guess I was terribly, terribly wrong, I’m sorry. Be careful.
To the theatre students I tried to inspire, teaching you that the arts can make a difference, that we are all human, that when we walk in another man/woman’s shoes, even in a vicarious film/theatre experience, we can learn to respect and embrace our diversity: How can that be wrong? I’m very sorry.
To the soccer player named Mohamed I consoled, promising that someday you will be able to use your real name and not be afraid, even in Oklahoma: I guess I was wrong. I’m sorry. Better keep that nickname.
To the CASA child who needs a DHS that is fully funded and support for substance abuse programs that can help your mommy and daddy take good care of you: I guess that I was mistaken that the system can work for you. I am so sorry.
To the inmates to whom I have handed pen and paper week after week, urging you to reflect and analyze yourselves critically so that you can change and grow and succeed even if you are a felon: I guess I was wrong. Honesty doesn’t really pay. I’m sorry. Just don’t get caught next time.
To the rich kids in private school that I warned that just because you are rich doesn’t mean that you are better than the rest of us; you still have to play by the rules: I guess I was really wrong. I’m sorry.
To the international students I assured that democracy does work and reassured that we stand by our allies in this country: Guess I’m really wrong on this one. Sorry about that! Duck!
To the scores of little kids that I taught to sing, Jesus does love the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. Each is precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world: I can’t believe I am wrong on this one, but I’m so sorry that we don’t live this truth in our Christian nation.
To all the students I have taught in Oklahoma for 29 years, in colleges, suburban high schools, high-risk middle schools, expensive private schools, after-school programs, Upward Bound programs for at-risk youth, Vacation Bible Schools, and minimum security prison programs, all of you that I begged to stay in Oklahoma because eventually we can make a difference and eventually this state will care more about education and the arts and kids and equality than prisons and posting the Ten Commandments. Eventually we will live by those commandments not just read them, I said for 29 years. I guess I was wrong, I’m so, so sorry.
Most of you know that I’m retired now. It’s just as well. I’m feeling today that my whole life’s work was wasted. Some people say I need to “get over it” and quit whining.
I have a better idea. I think I will just keep teaching anywhere and everywhere I can. ‘Cause that’s what people like me do. We don’t hoard ammunition and hassle women in headscarves. We don’t spit on people and preach them into hell cause they don’t believe like we do. We don’t threaten to “lock ’em up.”
We teach, we feed, we hug, we make art, we march, we pray, we organize, we believe. Like my Grandma used to say, “one foot in front of the other!”
Grandma was a very strong woman who fed her family during the Great Depression by teaching in one-room schoolhouses. She taught for 32 years. Grandma used to say, “The secret of living a good, long life is having something important you have to get up and do every day.”
At this rate, I’m gonna live to be a hundred. Its gonna take that long to clean this mess up!
– Ruth Brelsford lives in Red Oak, OK