Launched into the sky like a bird in mid-flight, a pole vaulter swings his entire body over the towering barrier and lands on a spongy mat.
Pole vaulters use learned skills, such as speed, strength, and fearlessness to fling them up and over a sky-scraping rod. Some vaulters can even jump barriers as tall as 20 feet!
As teachers, we often imagine our students soaring into the air like pole vaulters; we want our students to reach unimaginable heights and accomplish incredible feats in the world.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, is an intimate record of the life of Arnold Spirit Jr., a young Spokane Indian.
Arnold lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation and, as a freshman, he makes the brave decision to transfer and attend school in a small surrounding farm town (consisting solely of white people), instead of continuing to pursue his education on the reservation. As imagined, Arnold takes grief from the people of his reservation for abandoning them and submitting himself to the white world. Arnold also takes grief from the white people in his new school because he is the only Native American in attendance (besides the mascot).
Throughout the novel, Arnold speaks about the differences between the two schools. Ultimately, he boils down the differences and speaks directly about the student expectations at each school.
At Reardan, the rich, white school, teachers simply expect students to excel; they submit work timely, complete challenging courses, and they are expected to attend college.
On the other hand, at Wellpinit, the reservation school, students complete remedial courses, maintain poor attendance, use old and damaged textbooks, and do not even consider college as an option.
When considering the transfer, Arnold committed to Reardan when he thought about the hope the school offered, unlike Wellpinit. Arnold wanted to launch himself into the air and soar like the pole vaulter and he wanted to have a reliable pole when he did.
Let’s provide our students access to strong vaulting poles and let’s train them to get stronger, faster, better, smarter. Heighten the barrier and, with the necessary tools, the vaulter will conquer, regardless of race, creed, or gender.