An adult’s reflections on the Connetquot School situation

KW writes: Patricia Burkhart is a friend of ours, and an activist and community leader from Long Island, New York. I sent her my thoughts on why Connetquot Schools should respond to the current crisis (two young people had planned a shooting attack on the school) with healing and a move towards smaller schools. Here is Patricia’s response:

Here is my story:

I grew up dirt poor in a Queens row house, by the railroad tracks.  My family sent me to Catholic School — which I rebelled against almost from day one.  The up side is that it likely made me who I am:  a woman who rebels and because of it will fight for things she believes in, long after others have given up that fight because it is too hard or too inconvenient, or both.  After 8 years of Catholic School, which kept me safe — too safe (I never saw a black person) — I opted for a HUGE public high school (with black, brown, white and lots of drugs).  I somehow made it out alive, but with no real identity and not really sure who I was or who I wanted to be.  I just assumed I’d be married soon and have babies.  My performance in high school was, well, let’s say I graduated.  But I did not shine at anything.  In fact, I failed many classes.  My SAT scores were so bad, I made only one community college.  I rejected that road and instead fled to Manhattan to work full-time and live my dream of the big city life.  I traveled.  It was not a bad life, but something was missing.  Then, while working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the chief of the pediatrics department — a brilliant doctor and my boss — encouraged me to go back to school.  (He had broken the rules by hiring me for a research position that required a master’s level education because as he said, “you are capable and smart and can learn this job.”)  I had indeed tried college once — another public community college and dropped out because I did not feel special — just one of many.  The professors were uninspiring and might I say — un-seeing?  One day, my boss “ordered” me to spend my lunch hour at Marymount Manhattan College — a few blocks from the hospital — to see if perhaps that might be what I needed.  I did and that very year enrolled in a BA program.  I had to take a basic math class without credit before being allowed to enroll in other credit classes, because my SAT scores were so bad, but I was determined to be part of this small, nurturing, all female community.  I felt at home immediately.  I was EMBRACED, appreciated, encouraged and I was noticed — by many and for ME.  In 1990, I graduated magna cum laude, with a B.A. in History and Philosophy, many awards and honors, including Dean’s List for 3 of 4 years.  (And I slayed the math dragon — an A in Algebra!)  This would not have happened in a traditional big male college.  Today, MMC is a more traditional, big, male college (a necessity unfortunately) but I was one of the lucky ones — to this day I yearn to be sitting in the cafeteria or lounge, talking about Cezanne or Kant or Jane Jacobs or Rachel Carson or Jane Eyre……I was a sponge then and thank god my boss encouraged me to go SMALL.  I love classrooms, and learning and books and ideas.  And the liberal nuns that ran the school taught me perhaps the most invaluable lesson — to love your own company.  Because of that, I am never lonely or alone.   It had made all the difference in this woman’s life.


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