Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mushroom Musings

After graduating from college, West Chester State University in West Chester, PA, with a BS in English Literature and Education (that was a Bachelor of Science degree despite the rumors that the BS stood for something else entirely), I got my first job as a Teacher of English To Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at nearby Kennett Square School District. My day was divided between teaching English as a second language to migrant workers in the morning and teaching Special Education in the afternoons. I did this for a couple years, and this background has always given me a totally different perspective on non English speaking guests, residents, and aliens in this country. So many people complain that they don't speak English! My experience says that they would LOVE to learn to speak English, and that in fact they will do so if given the opportunity. Bilingual education in this country is a big can of worms right now, and my intention was not to open that can at the moment, but just to mention my slant on things. I find that all too often those who are most critical of non English speaking people in the country are coming at the issue from somewhere other than working with them - perhaps having them work for them (which is entirely a different thing all together). Rather, I worked with them, and always found them to be willing, even anxious to learn as much English as they could. Too often the real problem was that the work moved and so did they. Learning a language takes consistency, repetition, and access to good schools; this is often sadly lacking in our migrant population. I truly enjoyed that teaching English portion of my job there. And I have always wondered how many languages are spoken by those who think everyone SHOULD and MUST learn theirs. But all this is by way of saying: I worked, day in and day out, with migrant workers. Some Mexican. Most Puerto Rican. Some Chinese. A a handful of other nationalities. My job was to teach them all English...and I did. I can't name one student who didn't go into the course with gusto. But what brought them all to Kennett Square was mushrooms. Every single one of my students, no matter their age, their brothers and sisters, their mothers and fathers, and yes, cousins too, picked mushrooms in dark, dank strong smelling cinder block houses like the ones below. No fresh air really. No sunlight. No windows. Long shifts rooting with their hands through composted horse manure which is the basic ingredient for the soil in which the mushrooms are grown. It's a dirty job! But like many dirty jobs, someone has to do it if the product is as prized as the mushroom is. I learned to respect those that labor hard in poor conditions and for relatively low wages to produce something that is good. I know that many of them are always looking for the opportunity to improve their lot in life-a goal shared by nearly everyone in the country I would think.

I drove to the High School to show Marilyn where my first post grad job was and to give her a sense of the place and the culture. Not much has changed. The poor are still poor and working hard. The rich are richer and the number of big houses has grown tremendously in the area. The mushroom houses all look alike and all look the same as they did 40 years ago. I have nothing against rich or poor, so long as opportunity is the focus of our going forward. It should be.

If you would like to learn more about mushrooms, the Mushroom Capital of the World, or the annual mushroom Festival, give this link a try.

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