What follows is a speech given by Steven Miller upon his retirement.
By Steven Miller
Graduates, Parents, Teaches and Friends,
It has been my great honor and privilege to have taught in the Flatlands of Oakland. This is the community in which I live. Both my sons went through Oakland Public Schools. When I taught at Fremont for 15 years, my commute was 8 minutes. Now that Life Academy is in the Calvin Simmons building, it has been greatly reduced, for my house is only three blocks from school.
Fifty years later, now that I am in my sixties, I’m finally getting out of high school!
Today I am making my last report to the community as a public servant charged with guaranteeing the education and well-being of its children. I am retiring, though I intend to maintain my relation to public education and our fine school.
I started teaching when I was 40. I already had much life experience and had a family. I stand in complete amazement at my colleagues, who begin teaching – and do so well – in their early twenties.
I started teaching with guidance from Khalil Gibran’s great poem:
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you
And though they are with you
yet they belong not to you
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
For they have thoughts of their own
You may house their bodies, but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you,
For life goes not backwards, nor tarries with yesterday
For me, this meant be gentle, be for real, arm the students with knowledge, and then let them lead. Part of this is that learning means having fun.
Since I started teaching in 1985, I have worked with the Hip-Hop Generation from its very beginning. Oakland has played an inspirational role both nationally and internationally, in the development of funk and Hip-Hop. This music has gone viral round the world and today is the greatest political and protest music in the history of the planet. The music itself is teaching. At every stage, Oakland voices have been in the house.
In fact, the people of this generation are the most powerful, the most awaited, and the most burdened people in history. For they have no choice -- they must take us all into the new world, into the house of tomorrow.
From Global Warming to the insane polarization of wealth, and everything in between, it is abundantly clear that our society is seriously out of harmony with both Nature and humanity. This generation will heal our shattered relationships, heal our society -- torn by inequalities and addicted to the illusion of privilege, and heal our planet. I am completely optimistic about this.
We live in times where the new is aching to be born. Today - even in crisis -- the promise of what America - was always supposed to be - is at hand.
There is a legend, long honored by Native American tribes across the west, of the 7th generation. The 7th generation is a special generation. Their task is to culminate the last 6 generations, to clean up the mess of decades and to begin anew with a clear vision.
The 7th generation has powerful responsibilities.
Let’s do the math: a generation is about 20 years – 7 generations is 140 years.
What was going on in the world 140 years ago – in 1870?
The young people of 1870 had just fought the Civil War, often called America’s Second Revolution, to destroy slavery. They radically transformed their lives and America as they left the farms and used the latest hi-technology to built the great industrial factories.
In Mexico this was the generation that fought the Battle of Puebla and defended the country’s first president of Native American Heritage, Benito Juarez. It was a time when people openly fought to build a future that welcomed all of humankind.
The 7th generation today refers to all of us. We stand together on the cusp of this historical moment. We together are the bridge that connects our history with our future.
Those of us who have the experience have the responsibility to sum it up and communicate it, so that the new generation can avoid the mistakes of the past. Those of us who have the energy and vitality have the responsibility to deepen this understanding – and – to act on it. The central question for society is which future we will create.
Will the wonders of the latest technology – electronics - be used by the public as a whole to guarantee the distribution of abundance for all – or – will it be seized by the rich and powerful to create a nightmare of dispossession and human destruction? Transformation is at hand – whether this will be positive or negative is up to us. This is perhaps the central question of our time.
Let’s demolish one of the great myths that blinds us.
In 1998 – 13 years ago - the United Nations documented that the world economy produced abundance so that every human being on Earth could have the basic necessities of life.
“The world has more than enough resources to accelerate progress in human development for all and to eradicate the worst forms of poverty from the planet. Advancing human development is not an exorbitant undertaking. … it has been estimated that the total additional yearly investment required to achieve universal access to basic social services would be roughly $40 billion…. 0.1% of world income… That covers the bill for basic education, health, nutrition, reproductive health, family planning and safe water and sanitation for all.”
Children of course are the greatest victims of poverty. In other words, for about 4% of the amount the United States alone spends each year for war, we could permanently lift humanity across out of the misery of poverty. This abundance means that poverty today is not an inevitability at all.
This fact defines the moral crisis of our age.
A new era is arriving fast! Didn’t we always really know this? War for our lifetimes, Facebook, economic crisis, human cooperation now unlimited by either time and space. It gets more different every day!
This is the time of the teacher. In the school of society, we are all teachers. Parents, adults and children – we are all both teachers and students – because we daily debate ideas about which the way forward for humanity. In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.
There’s no way to go backwards and build Today on the model of Yesterday. What was possible a decade ago is now impossible; what was impossible is now possible. If we cannot fight backwards, we certainly must fight forwards towards a different future.
For this new world, teachers – all teachers - must continue to advocate the most dangerous ideas in America. You know the ones:
Clean up your mess – tell that one to British Petroleum or Standard Oil.
Stand in line so everyone gets their turn.
Respect everyone else like you want to be respected.
Everybody gets to play.
Nobody is better than anybody else.
Cooperate and work together.
And, of course, there’s one of the great lessons of American History, one that must be re-learned every generation:
This time around it’s all of us… or none of us.
So Congratulations graduates – You have a world to win!
Thank You All
And thanks to all my teachers.