If educators agree with the motto—“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one”—why are some of us holding our students back with our own fears?
A little more than a year ago, I had the wonderful idea of placing various quotes outside of my office door. This was going to be done with the primary intent of giving students something to ponder, secondary intent of giving colleagues something to read, and also give myself a personal challenge from week-to-week. Well, I only got as far into my personal/professional mission as week #1. Yep…..week #1. The quote I placed outside of my door seemed so powerful that its grip has had a hold on that wall for a while and I do not see it being removed anytime soon. The quote that has earned such a permanent residence reads, “The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”
I’ve worked as a school counselor in the field of public education for the past 15 years and in doing so have been invested in the academic, personal/social and career development of our young people. My mother was also a member of the Norfolk 17, and was the first Black to graduate from a desegregated high school in the state of Virginia. She later retired after 43 years of teaching at my high school alma mater. I admit my perspective is an interesting and very holistic one. Through my professional educational journey, I have been fortunate enough to pour into the lives of thousands of students and have found that many of today’s youth are some of the most driven, creative, opportunistic, resilient individuals I have ever come to know. At times I envy them when I think about the fact that in such a technological age and with the world literally in their back pockets and at their finger tips, they will never experience: (1) spending hours in a library scouring through a card catalog, (2) knowing what it means to use correction tape while trying to line up a typewriter, or (3) knowing how it feels to write on a cold piece of paper with semi-wet purple ink that has been produced by a risograph machine.
To be honest, I think today’s adults could learn a thing or two (or three) from such uninhibited youth. Studies show that the older we get, the more paralyzed many of us become by our past, our fears and even those personal dreams that seem outrageous at the time. Think about it, as a result of your past or present circumstances, how many times have you talked yourself out of writing that book, furthering your education, making that investment, painting that portrait, skydiving from that plane, making that record, performing in that play, going on that stage, or starting that business? Such a stagnant mindset bubbles to the surface when we transfer our low expectations and confine our youth to the box labeled the classroom. I have seen the result of too many individuals who engage in 90 minutes of instruction that does not employ a variety of professional learning strategies that engage our young people. Instead of stretching themselves and trying fresh innovative strategies such as technology, problem-based instruction, movement, artwork, humor, celebration, manipulatives, reciprocal teaching, mnemonic devices, storytelling, writing, reflection, music, rhythm and rhyme, they choose to hide behind the badge of “This is the way I’ve always done things. This is my classroom and they have to adjust.” Congratulations, home court advantage has been established.
The end result is a teacher who grows as far disconnected from their students as the east is from the west. The even greater concern and interesting perspective is that we have applied statistical data to the results of such a practice and lack of risk-taking and engagement, labeled it as an “achievement gap,” placed it on an invisible sticky note and slapped it on the backs of the “subgroups” i.e. students. Not fair. Not fair at all. Now we are looking around at a group of young minority males, pointing the finger at them as if something is wrong with them and in-turn making many of them feel insecure and academically inferior. Newsflash: The issue may not be them. The issue may be us. Let’s look in the mirror rather than look out of the window. If we are transparent enough and brave enough to look in the mirror, maybe we will find that we are the achievement gap. Our disconnect IS the gap! How about that for a “eureka” moment?
It’s on the table. Now, let’s deal with it.
At what point will a 16 bar rhyme or a freestyle battle that incorporates alliteration and allegory be an accepted component of the “gifted” scale or identification process? When will a teacher flip the script and place their classroom desks in a circle for the entire year (instead of rows)? When will philosophical chairs be used as a method by which to engage students in introspection with regards to their personal/social needs and perspectives? If we do not engage in transparency as educators and operate within the framework that we are all human and have all made decisions that (depending upon our perspective and delivery), could significantly impact the lives of others, will we be able to form a rapport with students that could yield a generational return. When we stop shielding students from those whom we feel are not important or whom we deem are no longer to be respected due to their history, past struggles and decisions, we, as a result end up shielding our young people from understanding such foundational principles of love, forgiveness, unconditional acceptance and endurance. These are truly principles that will produce young men who will thrive down the road as leaders, husbands, fathers, friends, and colleagues. An increase in such developmental assets will also place our young men in a position where they will engage in less risky behaviors that may have negative consequences (drug/alcohol use, negative peer group affiliations, suspension, incarceration, etc.).
To our young men, I would like to go on record to let you know that you have greatness in you. You may be dealing with your own set of struggles that you may feel the world may never come to understand, but I want to let you know that you are built for greatness. Do not allow your God or your dreams to be reduced to the size of your greatest circumstance. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Use every aspect of your life to serve as an opportunity to re-group, reflect and move further down the road as you move closer to your destiny.
To my schoolhouse colleagues, it’s time for teachers to face the fact that we must stop directly (or even indirectly) training our students to think like us, but engage in a holistic process of learning that allows them to discover their gifts, examine their past, embrace their present and explore their future. Give our young men a consistent, supportive platform by which to utilize the K-12 system as 13 years of empowerment and cultivation. Simply put….it’s time to lead or get out of the way, because the next generation of leaders are way ahead of us (trust me, that last line makes sense).
Teachers train. Educators empower.
Which one are you?
Photo: Flickr by Pommiebastards