The bright blue dumpster filled to overflowing with empty cardboard boxes was the size of a semi-trailer. It was just one dumpster behind one brick apartment complex in one Twin Cities suburb full of thousands of students attending colleges in the area. The sight of so many empty microwave, computer, and television boxes made this mom of a college student feel more than a little sick to her stomach. So much stuff, I muttered to nobody in particular, as I tossed another empty carton to the top of the heap. The units in the complex were specifically designed with single twenty-somethings in mind. It, like so many other buildings for college students these days, offered amenities like computer labs, a movie theater, and a fitness center complete with giant flat-screen T.V.s. The fact that the building was only at about half occupancy just one week before the beginning of fall semester is important to the story and so is the blue dumpster behind it.
She lived there just one academic year and graduated the following spring. At this point in the story, it is fair to say that she, like so many of her classmates, has lived a pretty well-loved life. She’d be the first one to admit it. She is part of the first generation of people who grew up believing that everybody on the team gets a medal. For Heaven’s sake, why wouldn’t they? Their coaches and parents were handing them out left and right from the time they started kindergarten. Their entire childhood was one big Oprah Give-Away episode…
YOU get a medal! And YOU get a medal!!! And YOU get a medal!!!!!!!
But anyway, back to the dumpster. Well.. almost.
She is a teacher now, and many of our conversations inevitably lead to what she’s learning herself. We talk a lot about the disparities that exist in many districts between the children who come to school well-fed and well-rested and those who just don’t. Earlier this winter, during a particularly cold week, we talked about why some schools close while others don’t and how school closings impact those in urban areas where homelessness is a harsh reality for too many children who spend their daylight hours in school and their nights in homeless shelters. And that’s if they’re lucky.
This is tough stuff. Tough. Stuff. I’m hoping that the harsh realities she and her friends who chose teaching face don’t extinguish the enthusiasm they feel right now about my profession, and I hope they get the support they need to serve all of their students. Not just the ones who come to school with a full stomach and a bedroom at home filled with stuff, but also the ones who can only dream about such luxuries. I know from experience that teaching will break your heart into a million tiny pieces if you let it.
I don’t have the answers, and don’t pretend to know how to fix a problem like homelessness. But I keep thinking about that blue dumpster.
And what it says about us all.
For more information on the issue of homelessness in Minnesota, please visit: http://www.wilder.org/homelessness.0.html