Things I Know 225 of 365: Oprah taught me

You get a car.

– Oprah Winfrey

New standards, new students, new schools, but no Oprah.

For the first time since I was in kindergarten, students starting their educational trek through began their school year in a post-Oprah world.

To most, it’s likely a subtle shift. I hadn’t even thought of it until today in class when we were learning about Lawrence Cremin’s concept of the “ecology of education.”

The interaction between educational institutions featured heavily in Cremin’s ecology. As Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot pointed out, this included any number of institutions. We were, after all, talking education, not just school.

Several examples of these institutional interactions were offered, but it was the Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s calling out of talk shows as redefining our conception of “how we think about talk, public/private boundaries and intimacy vs. voyeurism” that set me reeling.

Though not the everyday fixture in our house that she was in some of my friends’ homes, Oprah had a place in our family. She belonged. In fact, she was the only African American adult with whom I had consistent interaction until I got to college.

Though I remember the highlights of the Christmas shows or the celebrity exclusives or those damned book selections, something more subtle was taking place each time an episode was airing.

While I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons because my mom didn’t appreciate the message, Oprah was acceptable.

Some piece of that daily hour of television was worth inviting into our home, though we never spoke of or attempted to agree on its value. Its presence vouched for its value.

And, as Cremin would likely agree, that shifted my education. It altered my understanding of what it meant to talk and the possible public discussion of taboo.

I hadn’t considered it until today, and I haven’t a clue as to the depth, but I know she’s embedded in my thinking the same way Mr. Rogers’s airing of the film on how crayons were made created the first inkling that the things I played with and counted as wholes within my world had once been disparate pieces.

Millions of students began school this year in a post-Oprah world. Though no new episodes will be blaring as they come home to work on or blow off their homework or enjoy their after-school snacks, I wonder at how ever-so-slightly, perhaps imperceptibly, their classrooms, their interactions and their learning will be shifted by the echoes of Oprah.


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