My folks were immigrants

My folks were immigrants
with no time or money
for books.

Then I found out about
the public library,
a jumble of old red brick downtown,
full of books
you could take out
for nothing.

What I liked most
were adventure stories
that took me
out of my skin.

Often the world
in my books
was more real to me
than the life
around our kitchen table
or on our street

The family
and the neighborhood
you took
for granted.

The children I went to school with
were the first generation
to be born in America.

The public schools were dedicated
to Americanizing us.

Drop what makes you different.
Forget where your parents came from,
what they brought with them,
their own feelings and experiences,
their own beliefs and values.

Jane Addams understood
how wrong this was.
The public school, she said,
too often separates
the child from his parents
and widens the old gulf
between fathers and sons
which is never so cruel
and so wide
as between the immigrants
who come to this country
and their children who have gone
to the public school and feel
that they have there learned it all.

It is the business
of the school
to give to each child
the beginnings of a culture
so wide and deep and universal
that he can interpret
his own parents
and countrymen
by a standard
which is worldwide
and not provincial.

/ / /

This is a found poem. Source: Meltzer, Milton. “A Common Humanity.” Innocence and Experience: Essays and Conversations on Children’s Literature, compiled and edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire, Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1987, pp. 490-497.

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