To Be…A Student
Today is Tuesday. Students are sitting in classrooms all across the country. Teachers of various personalities are attempting to transfer knowledge to the minds of students from many walks of life and facing many challenges. It is another day in school where the idea of education is struggling to live up to a promise to society and to the students they serve.
A young African-American man sits in a high school in Charlotte. He lives in poverty. His mom works two minimum wage jobs and struggles every month to make it. His dad left the family when he was three years old, and he has no contact with him. This student has a younger sister in middle school. The neighborhood in which he lives is always on edge from nightly shootings and daytime despair. This young man worries every day about survival and his future. His mom begs him every day to stay out of trouble and to make a better life for himself. That is a challenge in a city that is number one in the country for the inability to rise out of poverty. School should be a ticket for him, but he feels it is a wall. He struggles with math, but surprisingly, he writes like a poet. His writing takes a backseat to the hours of endless math problems that take him nowhere he wants to go. The focus on math makes him feel worthless. He hates school. Because of his math struggles, he has been labeled, and feels uncomfortable in a place that should be helping him to see a way out of his marginalized existence. Teachers in his school are overworked, underpaid, and their shoulders carry so many burdens that they fail to see the longing in the eyes of this young man. The desire to be seen, not as a math failure, but as a magician of words. His days at school go by, weeks turn into years. The hopelessness of his life have turned a budding flower into a wilted bloom.
At a charter school in New York, a student walks into her class anxious and unhappy. This school’s curriculum is a rigorous, traditional format. No thinking outside the box here. Each student wears a uniform and empty desks arranged in rows await the students. Students are to sit quietly as they anticipate the beginning of class. This young lady is twice exceptional. She is highly gifted, but requires extra time for school work. She has a processing issue that affects speed. When she is called on in class, her slow processing becomes slower as she hesitates before answering a question she knows the answer to. It takes her longer to finish reading material required for class. She feels on edge at school, as she is constantly trying to be prepared for what might happen next. She loves photography, technology, and filmmaking. There are no classes available at her school to nurture her gifts. In fact, even with her high IQ, many teachers and students make her feel invisible. She is in the ninth grade and wonders how she can make it to graduation. Her school is inflexible and rigid. She is trapped in the education box.
At a public school in Silicon Valley, a young man parks his car alongside the other cars owned by students at this public school that feels like a private school. The students at this school come from families of high-achieving parents that are considered upper middle class. Every student is expected to excel. For this school and these families, that means acceptance to a top tier college. The day starts early for this young man as he runs with his cross country team before school starts. He then takes a shower and grabs breakfast as his parents jump in their Tesla and their BMW to head to their jobs in the world’s hotbed of innovation. Cost of living is very high, and maintaining the lifestyle requires diligence and focus. Parents discuss their children’s accolades to prove that their “child” has what it takes to be a winner. This student is always feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Maintaining the level of “top student” wears on him everyday. He wants to please his parents, but he wants a break. There have been several student suicides at his school. He knows the pressure is relentless. He doesn’t want to go to a top tier school. He wants to attend Olin College in Massachusetts. It is a hands-on engineering school, where students are engaged. He thinks the method of learning and collaboration with other students will allow him to step out of the present pressure cooker in which he now finds himself. He asks himself daily, “Really, what is success?”
Three students, three stories…all challenging, all noteworthy. How do we meet the needs of all of these students to capture their dreams and nurture them? First, we must rethink education. As parents and educators, we must step out of the education box, and realize that students cannot be effectively educated in the confines of a classroom, in rows, sitting quietly. Students must feel free to explore, lead with their gifts, and understand that success comes dressed in many ways. For our students to be prepared for tomorrow, we must plan today. Educating our young people requires feeding the mind, the body, and the spirit. We must nurture passion, the internal wiring of each student. We must allow for time alone, to dream, to exercise, to rest. We must celebrate the spirit, the self confidence, in each and every child. For success comes with confidence, confidence comes from feeling good about who we are to ourselves and to others. It is time to turn the page in education, the excitement should lure us into the future…into a garden of colorful, of individual, and of unique blooms reaching toward tomorrow.
All photos from Unsplash.
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* These students are fictitious, but could be a student you know.