Monday, February 22, 2010


Every morning when I go in to teach class the rooms are organized, the tables straight, the chairs orderly, and the chalkboard immaculate. This morning I went into the office earlier than usual, 7 a.m., to prepare for my 9 a.m. class. I saw no less than four custodians on the first floor as I made my way to the office. Even when I have been in at 8 a.m. I have not seen the custodians.

As I passed one room one of the men was meticulously cleaning the chalkboard. He was was an older Black gentleman with a look of sincere concentration on his face. I was struck by how incredibly serious he was at this work.

And even more than that, I was struck by how invisible these members of the community are to us in our every days lives. They come in and do their work and are gone before most of us even step foot in the building, often before most of us are having our first cups of coffee. But I have wondered from time to time who cleans the chalkboards, because I am not exaggerating when I say they are spotless; so spotless that there are times I feel bad that I don't get them as clean at the end of my classes.

I know I have mentioned the documentary The Philosopher Kings before, but it is worth mentioning again. At our colleges and universities we don't think enough about the people that keep our offices, classrooms, and spaces running and clean. These are the people that are often the most important but the most invisible in our daily lives. They do their jobs so well that we don't even have to think about how they do their jobs. For the most part, we can't begin to imagine what our lives would be like without them.

Maybe we should.

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