But now watch him greet a student entering a room. See his whole body loosen, the slow and humming voice rec- onciling into faith, his smile - usually thin with contemplation - teasing the corners of his lips. "How can I help make you better?"And this moment is where the identity crisis disappears, if ever so briefly, for both the teacher who will never be Mexican, and the kids who don't feel like Americans. A man can find himself in the strangest places.
A climb so steep
Michie does good things here,
although he does not comprehend it.
Thirty former dropouts and Saints
members have gone on to receive their
high school diplomas from Dugan Alter-
(For me, the success
i f the group . . . not the
success, but the meaning if it,
1S that they keep coming back.
No one is making them.'
native School. Four blocks away, across
Ashland Avenue, the La Razas gang was
inspired by the Saints - the very people
they attack with violence - to start a
sin1ilar program of their own. At Holy
Cross, a congregation once scornful ofits
violent sons has learned to open its arms.
it was half that many - "which seems
like a drop in the bucket," he says - but
it only takes one member of a family
receiving a diploma to give the rest the
same idea. Serrano's two younger siblings
intend to follow her lead, and the men at
Reflection are proud to hear "someone
from the neighborhood" has risen to the
The hallways of Seward, once without
culture, now boast bright murals - an
important art form of the Latino commu-
nity - completed by a former student
who went on to study art at Columbia
College. There are many differences now.
"This sounds like I'm saying I made these
changes," says Michie, whose book, now
in its second printing, is used in almost
two dozen college education classrooms,
including UCLA, Auburn and Indiana. "I
don't want it to seem that way. I just don't
want this to read like a teacher-as-hero
story." He knows why that story line is a
temptation: It's because the rest of us want
it to be easy; we want to pronounce a
solution, a savior, an incarnation of hope.
But these are not the sentences of success.
"The danger in this kind of story is
that the next thing you hear people say is,
'If only we had more teachers like that
guy, we could straighten out those kids on
the South Side.' And then it becomes the
solution. It takes the responsibility off of
government, off ofsociety. It's a way to
smooth a guilty conscience. But the real-
ity is that a teacher can't solve poverty, a
teacher can't solve racial problems or eco-
nomic inequalities. One person acting
alone can't change those things."
You can't see the daily metanlorphosis
here. We don't have a flip-book with car-
toons in each corner that we can shuille
like a deck of cards, quickly advancing the
hero's fate. What we have is a snapshot in
time ofa man who his adviser, William
Ayers, says is still struggling with his iden-
tity as an educator. There are no small
mistakes for Michie. "Greg's humility is
not false, it's not a pose," Ayers says. "Any-
one who says, 'I am a teacher' is begin-
ning to die a teacher. Don't pin me to a
wall with a label. What I want to say is
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