Do We See the Beauty in Every Student?

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As many of us prepare for the start of a new year, I can’t help but think of the students who will drop-out, work instead of go to college, be placed in a juvenile detention center, go to jail, fail, attend alternative schools, or be on welfare. Somewhere along the way a parent, teacher, politician, and community failed them.  In most cases, it was all these stakeholders who failed them.When I see a defeated student walk into my room I wonder at what age someone made them feel like they could not succeed. At what age did an adult call them stupid, an idiot, or declare that child could not accomplish a dream? At what age did these children have their dreams shattered? At what age did this child embrace failure and wear it like a security blanket?
Seeing the Ugly
I would love to believe all educators enter our field full of compassion for every student. I would love to believe each teacher, administrator, librarian, and counselor entered the profession full of passion. My experience paints a dark reality. I have worked in several low-income schools, alternative schools, homeless shelters, and juvenile detention centers in a major US city. I volunteered to teach reading at the middle school that had the 2nd lowest reading average in Texas. I ran creative writing programs for several at risk schools in my city. I remember the first time walking into one of the 6th grade classrooms. The teacher was cursing at her students and yelling that they were too stupid to do anything. She was upset by the fact that none of them were making a higher grade than a 74 in her class. Only the ones who were passing could attend my monthly creative writing workshop. I was disgusted by this teacher. I wish I could tell you that was the last time I had this feeling of disgust. It wasn’t. I remember then taking her students to a separate class and teaching them some poetic forms. I encouraged the students to do free writing. One student wrote about the peer pressure of having a baby with her boyfriend. She was 12 years-old. Another student was sad for his brother who was in jail for shooting an entire family at a convenience store. Another student wrote about his drug addicted mom. Each piece of writing was tragic and made me recall what I struggled with as a 12 year-old. I remember thinking how fortunate I was to have been able to just be 12. None of these students had this experience and the reality is that many of them were the ones who dropped out of high school, went to jail, got pregnant as teenagers, joined gangs or went on welfare.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ~ Confucius

How many students walk into a class and are labeled as trouble or bad? How many times have you heard teachers say something like, “Oh I hope he’s not in my class!”? How many of us see a kid with piercings, bad hygiene, or questionable style and form our opinions? Perhaps, I’m preaching to the choir and the sad reality is that the teachers who don’t care will not be the ones reading this post or any like this one. However, I think we need to find a way to stop this. We all need to dig deeper, especially with the troubled ones. They obviously act out for a reason.
The Reality
The problem is that there are too many students who feel more comfortable with failure. Just look at these statistics from 2007 (most recent statistics available):
Consider the drop-out rate in your country. How many thousands or millions of students drop-out each year, are unemployed, or on welfare? With the current worldwide economic crisis can we really choose to ignore the impacts of our failing education systems?Yet, that is what politicians in governments around the world do as well as the communities that place them in office. I have studied the rates for the US and in decades we improve the statistics by less than 10 %. In some countries, the statistics do not improve. Unfortunately, these millions of students who are embracing failure are the same ones that an adult could not see the beauty, only the ugly. I have seen schools with high drop-out rates and illiteracy rates. The majority of their student population consist of students who people write off and never see in them beauty or hope.

And maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be~ Man of La Mancha

I know there is no simple solution, but we have to aim to improve the system. We have to find a way to stop failing millions of students every year. With social media we have a voice and a forum. Millions are online and daily we see the impact of how news goes viral. We can use this to our advantage. We can organize and form grassroots movements. Each of us can step into our institutions and convince at least a few to join our Personal/ Passionate Learning Networks (PLNs). We can get them to join the conversation and question the way they teach and see students. Our PLN can pass on the passion. We need to be mad. We need see education as it should be and stop thinking we cannot change the system. Yes, we are blamed, rarely listened to, and inundated with a tireless amount of work. There is every excuse not to step up, act, and change the system. That is why we need to be mad, angry, disgusted, and raise our fists at the current education system.
Be disgusted and begin to find a way to change the system.

Do you know of any ways we can collectively collaborate and change the current education system? What are your suggestions or projects?
Image adapted from a Flickr image by Pink Sherbert Photography/ CC Attribution 2.0

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