Dylan Garity – “Rigged Game” (NPS 2013)


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Dylan Garity, performing at the 2013 National Poetry Slam for Minneapolis’s SlamMN!

30 thoughts on “Dylan Garity – “Rigged Game” (NPS 2013)

  1. Every day when I was five, my older sister would play teacher.
    Her students were me, my stuffed rabbit and an American girl doll,
    She’d line us up at the end of the bed and teach us whatever she’d learned in school that day.

    Now, she teaches ESL at an elementary school in Boston
    and every week she tells me stories about her students.
    Ana does not know how to read in Spanish, much less English
    but she still wants to be a writer when she grows up.
    Juan chooses to stay inside and study at recess so that one day he’ll be able to teach his own brother.

    These kids are good organs in a sick body.
    In 2001, No Child Left Behind
    gutted bilingual education.
    Students who have been in the country for one year
    are now expected to perform at grade level
    on standardized English tests.
    My sister is not allowed to instruct them in Spanish.
    If the kids don’t jump high enough, the school loses money
    Improving a school by picking its pockets
    is like tuning a guitar by ripping off the strings.

    Learning to read in a new language
    before you can even read in your own
    is like learning to walk while a pit bull is chasing you.
    Like learning to sing with the conductor’s fist down your throat

    This year, for my sister’s birthday,
    I bought books for her students.
    A poem on one page in Spanish, the next in English.
    She is not allowed to help them read the first.
    Their heritage is a banned book

    Learning to read in a new language
    when you can’t even read in your own
    is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.
    We are telling these children
    who have spent their whole lives in the deep end
    that they’ll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther.

    In the 1980s, American slaughterhouses
    began building corrals in curves,
    so no animals could see the blood at the end of the track.
    This is how we kept them moving forward.
    In 2001, we began building the hallways of our schools in curves.
    This is how we keep them moving forward.

    You never learn, you fail the test
    You never learn you fail the test
    You never learn, you drop out.

    I know, I am lucky enough to be one of the winners of this game
    I was handed a head start
    and a rulebook in my own tongue

    but the winners of a rigged game
    should not get to write the rules.

    On the television,
    some senator preaches that throwing money
    at an “urban school” is like feeding caviar to your dog.
    They just won’t know how to appreciate it
    After all, if these parents can’t take care
    of their own children, why should we?

    Well tell that to Ana
    who has my sister translate newsletters aloud to her father
    because he, too, was never taught how to read

    Tell that to Juan
    whose mother and baby sister are still in Guatemala
    whose father works three jobs

    My sister tells me school is the most stable place in these kids’ lives.
    She has been a teacher since she was smaller than they are.
    but since when does being a teacher mean having to swear not to help?
    Since when does being a teacher mean having your hands tied
    as the schoolhouse burns to the ground?
    We are leading these children along a track built in circles
    as their lungs fill with smoke
    telling them it is their fault
    they can’t find a way out.

  2. I was like Ana. I was in school when no child left behind was passed. I speak English fluently now, but all the stress and anxiety that was put on me at such a young age was detrimental and I don’t want anyone else to experience what I experienced. Unfortunately though, it’s happening every day. I cannot even begin to explain how frustrating it was to have someone try to teach you a language you’ve never heard by only speaking to you in said language. By explaining everything in that language, the one you and your parents don’t know a lick of.

  3. "Improving a school by picking it's pockets is like tuning a guitar by ripping off the strings. Learning to read in a new language before you can even read in your own is like learning to walk while being chased by a pitbull. Like learning to sing with the conductor's fist down your throat."

  4. This poem hit me hard. I had to deal with the same issues. I missed a lot of my classes just to do go ESOL and ended up failing tests because I simply wasn't taught it during class. I knew how to speak Spanish perfectly but they practically stripped me away of it now. I can't even roll my rs anymore. All that mattered was to speak English. I was fortunate in the end and somehow became great at writing and loved it and proceeded into more advanced classes. But the fact that my own native tongue will never be the same as it was before will always haunt me. Even if I'm considered a 'winner' in this awful, rigged game what did i win? The loss of my heritage? The guilt in not being able to speak fluently and happily as I did so long ago? Just these things. . .

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