Jose M Goico Jr. ’74
For 34 years I have worked with students who have difficulty learning, 23 as a bilingual urban classroom teacher, and the last 11 as an educational therapist. Yet a career in education was the furthest thing from my mind when I left Wesleyan. Having graduated with a major in religion, I stayed on with the department to do a masters and play music with Talking Drums, the band I started with Master Drummer and Professor Abraham Adzenyah. Then one day as I sat mulling over the mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross I had an epiphany. Perhaps John Steinbeck captures the insight best:
"And you ain't gonna preach?" Tom asked.
"I ain't gonna preach."
"And you ain't gonna baptize?" Ma asked.
"I ain't gonna baptize. I'm gonna work in the fiel's, in the green fiel's, an' I'm gonna be near folks. I ain't gonna try to teach 'em nothing'. I'm gonna try to learn. Gonna learn why the folks walks in the grass, gonna hear' em talk, gonna hear 'em sing. Gonna listen to kids eatin' mush. All that's holy, all that's what I didn' understan'...."
So my wife and I took our dog, all we owned, loaded it into a Ford van, and set out to visit family and friends as we zigzagged through this majestically beautiful country for nine months until we reached Los Angeles, camping and back packing along way. It didn't matter that all I knew was on the East Coast. I wanted to go to the next level, and I did but not in music.
I played a lot of great music while in L.A. to be sure, and even had the privilege of recording with Jay Hoggard, friend, fellow alum and professor of ethnomusicology at Wesleyan, when he went out to the West Coast. Yet through a series of magical coincidences I was plunged into the turbulent waters of urban education that like the riptides off of Santa Monica Beach, continually threaten to sweep unwary swimmers away from shore. Urban classroom teaching is heavy swimming even for the experienced. Whether in the metaphorical waters of inner city education or the symbolic ocean of desert sands in The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho's advice still holds, "Learn to recognize omens, and follow them." I did not have long to wait.
It was my first day of class at Menlo Avenue Elementary School, and I was about to give my first lesson. Thirty-five 2nd graders had just split up into three reading groups on my aide's command. There I stood incredulous in front of my tiny chair looking at the faces around the reading circle, when a soft tug on the hem of my jacket drew my attention. Looking down to see what it was, my eyes met the smiling gaze of a neatly coiffed, almond-eyed Chicano girl named Lorena. Then she gently took my index finger in her little hand and said in Spanish, "You look nervous. Don't worry. Just start. You will be all right."
Buddhist Master Chao-chou (778-897) said, "If I meet a young girl of seven years who has something to teach me, I will sit at her feet and learn." So I sat at my students' feet from then on, lost count of the times I deconstructed my instructional approach, and found my calling, yet never forgetting the human face (the Lorenas) for whom the array of theories and methods are intended; never failing to ask myself what the ultimate ideas behind our society are that have brought us to this present state of affairs, continually striving to be philosophical, yet never forgetting how profoundly intimate learning is.
Wesleyan was where I first experienced learning as an intimate activity, intellectually rigorous and demanding to be sure, yet equally big hearted and personal. I can still feel the electricity of being engaged with so many individuals -- students and professors alike -- so utterly committed to learning; individuals like Professor Jeremy Zwelling, dear friend and mentor, and Professors like Jerome Long, Jim Helfer (now James Stone), and Father Charles Gonzalez -- all from the Religion Department. They were the ones who introduced me to my Zen teacher, Sasaki Roshi, with whom I studied formally for 20 years. They were the ones who prepared me for my calling and my gratitude to Wesleyan and to my professors knows no bounds.