“Volunteering” by guest blogger Felicia Thomas

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Felicia’s essay on volunteering fits well with that mission and my own passion for reforming education. 

volunteerImagine a world in which we could feel confident enough to leave the major decisions and responsibilities that need to be addressed in our country in the hands of our young people. We would do this and feel secure that the oversights and misdirection our country previously was subjected to by its predecessors would be rectified by an involved, enthusiastic, emerging generation. It would be invaluable to have young idealists addressing the concerns and issues facing their communities before they turn into larger problems that then become national issues. What a world this would be if, instead of leaving the complicated issues our country faces on the shoulders of an unwilling and unprepared younger generation, we arm them with the value of community and the tools for successful civic engagement.

We all know that as the US. Population grows, newer and newer generations emerge, each one seemingly worse off than the last. Prior generations, unless otherwise affiliated with public institutions such as churches, private schools, or youth based organizations (where volunteering is required), were not shown how to offer impactful change in their community. Without these examples of how to care about more than one’s own immediate personal needs, each new generation of young people grows increasingly detached and uninvolved as time goes by. Alison Muller made an observation about what she witnessed during her volunteering initiative offered by the students that reside at the troubled youth facility she worked at:

One of our most successful volunteer activities was with a local senior nursing home. We had an idea of what we had hoped could be gained by volunteering with the elderly, but we could not have anticipated all of the benefits the youth received, especially for those deemed the most troubling. We found over time that the youth who were most problematic within the residential program were often the best volunteers or helpers. The same qualities that caused problems in the residence made them successful with our senior citizens. (Mueller)

Even with the most troubled of our youth, volunteering can have great impact on their social and individual development irrespective of the social/emotional challenges they may face.

I’m confident that most people can list a minimum of three or four issues they feel either their community and or state deals with, whether environmental, institutional, or public, that involve not only themselves but their fellow citizens directly. The need for change is obvious, and the need for volunteering is nationally recognized. “Volunteerism during the Transition to Adulthood: A Life Course Perspective” points out the need for more visibility of our young people in volunteering:

Concerns about the maintenance of American democracy and civic society is heightened by a presumed disengagement of the contemporary younger generation from the political process and civic life, as well as its greater individualism and materialism. The empirical evidence for the perceived disengagement of young people is mixed, however. While trust among young people has declined and materialism has grown, rates of volunteering and community participation have remained stable or even increased over the past two decades. Despite this evidence, concern about young people’s civic involvement and the future of American civic society continues. To be concerned is warranted, since learning a sense of civic-mindedness and being engaged in the community early in life is found to be of utmost importance in developing responsible and civically active adults.

Why is our younger generation so uninvolved? Are materialism and consumerism going to be all we demonstrate and pass on to our future generation? Can we encourage and promote community based problem solving?  I would say, “Yes, we can,” and “Yes, we should,” specifically while our students are attending school and while their minds are pliable and open to guidance.

There are those who have some definite opinions surrounding this idea of volunteering and students specifically in conjunction with the school environment.  Robert Grim weighs in on the topic:

School is a key area for youth socialization. Not only is it a place where youth begin to develop an identity apart from their family, it is also a context in which youth begin to develop a sense of a larger community to which they belong. In addition, previous research has shown that involvement in volunteering through schools, whether through community service or service-learning, can lead to improvements in self-esteem and academic achievement. In response to the overall decline in civic engagement among Americans, the past decade has seen a growing debate on the role that educational institutions should play in promoting civic education in schools. (Grimm)

He makes a great point. Volunteering adds a substantial enrichment component to the education of school aged children. Isn’t emphasizing a sense of community just as essential to our children’s education as other skills taught? We should equip our youth with the ability to facilitate group projects that are beneficial to their community, state, or country. How can we truly say that we are preparing our children to become the best people they can be if we are not somehow tracking the way their minds and ideas are developing and whether those ideas will hinder or fall in line with civic engagement fundamentally?

A good solution for dissolving the unappealing image volunteering has will be to familiarize/normalize volunteering and civic education. It should be written into curriculum starting from third grade and up. Most adults hold the impression that volunteering is time consuming or that they get no direct immediate benefit. Some feel that they simply don’t know where to start. All of these misconceptions could be dispelled through early engagement and information on participation.

There are those who feel that forcing students to perform mandatory-volunteering is an oxymoron. This is not completely inaccurate. This is precisely why more attention to and the creation of service learning and civic education curriculum should be implemented as soon as possible into public and private schools alike. It’s important to remember that not all the benefits of volunteering go only to the students.  Large scale volunteering itself sets the tone of the community in which it’s frequently offered. Implementation of this idea not only would make the process familiar to each new emerging generation, but also for the current members of the community. The relationship between volunteer and recipient is a unique dynamic:

The new pattern of volunteering offers challenging and meaningful activities . . . the engagement is for short term and the turnover in the organizations is rather high. These developments are linked to a general process of individualization, which however cannot be totally identified with egoism. . . . nowadays the service-oriented attitude is emerging, which creates a climate of trust and results in a more satisfactory and productive relationship between volunteer and recipient, in contrast with the earlier “merely” helping attitude, where reciprocity was not necessarily prevalent. (Feynes)

It’s not an easy task, trying to locate recent studies or statistical information on the frequency of youth volunteering. This is because volunteering is not a topic that generates enough conversation. There are organizations that employ the use of young adults to teach service learning to school age children in their community. They also facilitate and organize volunteering projects in those same communities. One such organization is called City Year, another is called AmeriCorps. Both organizations encourage youth volunteering and try to educate about civic engagement and leadership. Both also offer a presence within the local school systems as well. The relationship with schools and the organizations is a very idealistic initiative. However, on the part of the public schools, the amount to which each organization is allowed to introduce their objectives and volunteering initiatives is extremely limited. This seems counterproductive, even with organizations being readily accessible.

Think about how many times you’ve volunteered in your life. How did you feel after? Now place yourself in that same scenario with one major difference. You have a solid understanding of what it means to make the choice to step into leadership roles, and civil service has now become your instinctive. This could be achieved with our emerging generation, but only if we teach unconventionally:

These new ways of understanding and brain-friendly approaches to learning are creating waves of change in all levels and domains of education from the instruction of formal schooling in both private and state based programs, to education policy, to an increase in academic research institutes, to special needs education, to private educational and therapeutic enterprises. However, such new advances are still young, with research yet in its early stages of development and acceptance. Many educational systems across the world still adhere to more traditional approaches and more enlightened institutions are grappling with the transition from the old ways of thinking to the new. (Karabulut)

In conclusion, no matter what your political views or opinions are, we all want our country to progress and strive for improvement; we don’t want to continue to witness the corrosion of our “democratic” nation. This starts with us. But for everyone to carry the same sentiments it must be instilled early on.

Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

Guest Blogger: The Sober Route

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students  discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Tommy’s essay on sobriety fits well with that mission. I have known too many people who have been affected by addiction, their own or a loved one’s; so I’m hoping this post will find the people who need that push to take the first steps.

By Tommy Costa

Do you find yourself drinking more than you wish? Do you drive while intoxicated? Have you ever been arrested while intoxicated? Do you consistently blackout while drinking or using drugs? Do you spend most of your days thinking about the next drink or drug? Do you spend most days drunk or high? Have you ever drank or used drugs even though the night before you swore it off forever? Maybe your family or friends are concerned about the way you drink or drug. If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are probably an alcoholic/addict.

If you have even an inkling of desire to stop drinking and/or using drugs, then you will definitely need help. The first task to accomplish is simply admitting it. Another is realizing that alcoholism and addiction are one in the same, which means a problem with drugs is also a problem with alcohol. The next big step is getting sober. What makes getting sober so difficult is the fact that addiction is a three-fold illness: body, mind, and spirit. Getting sober is not easy, but it is well worth all the effort.

12 stepsThe first step to beating any addiction is to cure the physical condition. That means you need to put the plug in the jug. Stop drinking. Stop using. Dump the alcohol and chuck the drugs. Physically sobering up can be difficult, even dangerous, so it is completely acceptable to seek medical attention. Many times the best place to detoxify your body is at a detox unit or drug rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, beds are not always readily available. It is absolutely necessary to consistently call any and all facilities in your state daily. A bed can open up at any time, and the waiting lists are long, so making it known you are serious about getting sober is vital. Your next step is to find a self-help group to attend. You have many groups to choose from be it Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, or any other self-help group. The important part is being able to identify with what other people are talking about within the group. One of the biggest hang-ups a newcomer can have is comparing rather than identifying, which means looking at how you are different from other people rather than how you are the same. The most assured way to stay sober is by working with another alcoholic or addict. Thankfully today it is quite easy to find a meeting to attend; all you have to do is look one up online. You are bound to have meetings in your area; just pick a day and time, then go.

The type of meeting you choose is not as important as making it known that you are new. Most meetings have a moment for newcomers to introduce themselves, which is an opportunity for you to ask for help. Raising your hand to introduce yourself in a crowded room can be quite daunting, but willingness is extremely vital to the process of getting and staying sober. Once you have made yourself known as a newcomer, people will introduce themselves to you. This is the perfect chance to get phone numbers and make new friends. More than likely, all of your old friends drink or use, so having new ones is extremely important. Another good move is deleting contacts from your phone of people who will hinder your sobriety. Whether it is people you were drinking with or your dealer, it is best to delete them from your phone. In some cases, you may have to block phone numbers or outright change your own number. A great suggestion for any newcomer is to go to ninety meetings in ninety days.

Unfortunately, simply going to meetings will not keep you sober. There are twenty-four hours in a day and a meeting will only take away one of those hours; the best way to fill the rest of your day is with fellowship. Fellowship is quite simply spending time with a fellow sober alcoholic or addict. Fellowship can easily chew up the other twenty-three mind-boggling hours of the day. Any alcoholic/addict in recovery, new or old, can attest to how insane the alcoholic/addict mind is shortly after removing the only solution known to him or her, which is alcohol and drugs. Spending plenty of time with fellow alcoholics/addicts in recovery can help you keep away from another drink or drug.

Meetings and fellowship will only help you with curing the body. The insatiable desire to drink or use will not fade in the short time it takes to cure the body of the physical portion of alcoholism/addiction. Alcoholism is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit, so all three must be brought into balance before one can truly be seen as recovered. Curing your mind will require working the program. The alcoholic mind has a curious mental obsession that allows for blind spots when relating to alcohol and drugs. Alleviating the obsession comes with a bit of time and plenty of hard work. Any knowledgeable alcoholic/addict can attest to the fact that simply knowing of the disease will not keep you from the next drink or drug. In order to successfully work the program, it is best you follow the suggestions of others and get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is willing to guide you through the work and assist you in staying sober. Generally, a sponsor is someone of the same gender who has already done the work. During meetings, there is a point where people willing to sponsor announce themselves; the simplest advice is to ask someone who has what you want. The first person you pick to be your sponsor may not be the right fit for you, but it is always okay to change sponsors until you find the right one. You do have to ask yourself why you want to change sponsors though, because changing sponsors in order to avoid the work is a wrong choice. Whomever you decide to have as a sponsor, it is simply their job to walk you through the work; your sponsor is not in charge of your sobriety. Keep in mind that doing the work, which are the twelve steps laid out in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is exactly what will relieve you of any mental obsessions you have relating to drinking or using.

The final and most important piece to staying sober is sharing with others what has been freely given to you. Giving back is what will heal your spirit and bring about full recovery. Keep in mind that there is no returning to drinking or drugging. Once someone has crossed into the realm of alcoholism/addiction, there is no return to normal. Giving back is the easiest part of being sober; you only need to give back to those in need. Simply shaking the hand of someone new or giving your number to someone still suffering can make a great difference. Staying sober is all about turning your life from being a selfish existence into a selfless existence.

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March 2016

What are the best examples you have seen of teachers closing the gender gap in education?

studentsI wrestled with this question for a few weeks because I thought the question implied that the educational gender gap meant that male students have the upper hand. However, I think the current state of education favors female students.

In general, female students are able to sit for longer periods of time without breaks; they are less likely to interrupt teachers in a classroom; and they read more than males do. In other words, the current classroom is catering to female students and punishing male students. Obviously, we have both male and female students who don’t fit these descriptions, so we have to treat each student as an individual. But if we look at the trends, teachers can be open to all learning styles to create gender neutral classrooms.

In the eleven years I taught high school English, I noticed the decline of male students in my honors classes. The first year I taught honors English, male students outnumbered female students 5 to 1. The last year I taught, it was the exact opposite. I believe this happened because the current educational reform movement concentrates on testing over experiential learning. I also noticed that in my college classes, my male students, although incredibly intelligent, believe they are horrible students because they didn’t engage with the drill and test teaching methods in high school.

Any classroom that acknowledges the differences between genders will do well. Using movement as part of the learning environment will keep males engaged. In previous posts (https://paulinehawkins.com/2015/09/16/top-12-global-teacher-blogger-discussion-september/), I talked about creating games, like Trashball, and changing lessons every 15-20 minutes to allow movement in the classroom. These techniques keep any student engaged, but especially students who cannot sit still for long periods of time.

Understanding that females struggle with being vocal in a male dominated classroom will also help teachers close the gender gap. Having Socratic seminars (where students discuss literature for points), small group discussions, and short-answer written responses create varied opportunities for all students to shine and engage.

Another change in education that has harmed students who don’t flourish in a traditional classroom setting is the absence of vocational options that used to connect those types of students to school and prepare them for careers. We need to bring back those type of learning environments.

An issue that is specific to males is that the definition of “being a man” has changed so much that boys don’t necessarily relate to traditional male characters and authors anymore, so we should make sure that our male voices in literature are as contemporary and diverse as our female voices.

Finally, talking to boys and girls early and continuously about their strengths and how to capitalize on them instead of scolding little boys for being active and ignoring little girls who are silent will improve the classroom for everyone. If all teachers in all levels could channel the natural strengths of both genders, maybe our students wouldn’t lose interest in their education.

Special thanks to Karyn McWhirter for her help and insight with this post.

The Philanthropic Experience: A Student’s Perspective

One of my current college composition student wrote a personal narrative essay that beautifully illustrates one of my ideas to reform education (

https://paulinehawkins.com/2012/11/21/high-school-reformation/

).

This is what I proposed in that post:

The Philanthropic Experience

For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Travel/Pix/pictures/2013/12/5/1386262243685/Pelourinho-Salvador-Brazi-008.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=2da05ce1061654577044b90f7c90a3c8
Salvador, Brazil

This is what Justin had to say about being one of those students and having that experience:

“A Brazilian Soul” by Justin Moore

From September to December of 2015, I spent three months volunteering in Salvador, Brazil, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. My comfort bubble was absolutely obliterated, and because of it, I am mentally, physically, and socially stronger. A year ago, I had no plans of doing any traveling or any plans in general. I was lost and unsure about what to do, and the future seemed like a terrifying monster called life that was going to chew me up and spit me right back out. I have always been that friend on whose shoulder people cry, and I have always been fascinated with foreign cultures. These two seemingly unrelated attributes led me to volunteering abroad. Thank god for Brazil.

Brazil helped turn me around even before I set foot in the country. With three months to go before leaving through the Cross Cultural Solutions program, my parents started nagging me about what I would do until then to make money. Their pressure and message of how only failures sit around all summer really impacted me. So I did something I had never done before: I got a job. It was a part-time, telephone-surveying job and paid about nine dollars an hour. The first week, I was terrified of making a mistake and felt as though I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I received my first paycheck that I finally experienced a sense of pride and confidence. I never applied myself in high school, did terribly grade-wise, and never really achieved academically. After my first paycheck, I had this unfamiliar, rewarding feeling. I had worked hard at something and received something back from it. That money made me independent. It motivated me to work hard. And it showed me that I could succeed in life if I put my heart into something.

            After a couple months of working, it was finally time for me to saddle up and head out. It wasn’t until I saw the people of Brazil that I accepted I was abroad. I had landed in a third world country in a city that was 80 percent non-Caucasian, was poor, and spoke Portuguese. It was a strange feeling to be the minority now in seemingly every aspect of life. A taxi picked me up at the airport and drove me to my home base in the heart of the city. Boy was that a drive! Here I was, an 18-year-old, middle-class, white Justin from America, looking out the window at what could have been Pluto for all I knew. All I could think was, “Justin, what have you gotten yourself into?”

I settled into a modest apartment and realized I had a few days before any of the volunteering began. The other volunteers hadn’t yet arrived; I had nobody to see an no place to be. I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined samba (Brazilian dance), capoeira (Brazilian martial art), and Portuguese (Brazilian language) classes. These classes helped me immerse myself in the local culture, make some friends, and boogie down too!  Three months of samba and capoeira were amazing. Socially, I learned how to interact with those from other cultures and be more open. Physically, I lost 25 pounds and got into the best shape of my life!

The other participants of the program started to roll in the day before we began volunteering. I soon realized that not only was I the youngest, but I was also the youngest by 14 years. High school had taught me that the upperclassman were in charge. Strangely, that’s not how I came to think of the other volunteers. Living and working closely with my “elders” for three months, I began to feel more like their peers. We learned to respect each other, regardless of age, religion, and background; because of it, our group turned into one big happy family. I was not their son; they were my brothers.

The first place, and originally the only place1, where I volunteered was Orfanato Vo Flor (Grandma Flowers Orphanage and Daycare). Here, children between the ages of four to seventeen live or are dropped off each day if their guardians cannot provide a “safe environment” for them while they are at work. It is almost completely unstructured, and the children there run amok in a maze of broken glass and filth. One might say this is not a viable “safe” substitute, but these kids had parents who were drug addicts, physically or mentally disabled, and with little or no means. Sometimes they didn’t even come from homes at all and lived on the street.

I was incredibly nervous on my first day. When they dropped me off, I could feel every eye on me. I walked alone into the favela2 and stuck out like a sore thumb. I sought out the director of the orphanage and poorly understood the directions she gave me. We parted ways, and I stumbled back into the main area where all the kids were hanging around. I had no idea what I was supposed to do at the facility. I was terrified of being an awkward waste of space that just sits there and does nothing but consume oxygen. Then, out of the blue, a young girl named Ana Lucia ran over and pulled me into the best experience of my life.

Ana was the first out of all the children there to approach the intriguing but intimidating beast known as the American. Everyone else was too nervous. Once she did, however, every other kid swarmed in and started jabbering away and pulling on my clothing. I felt like I was in a petting zoo where I was the animal and they were overly enthusiastic humans. I spent the first day being dragged from place to place and shown a kind of love I had never experienced. The love was a sweet mixture of foreign fascination, friendship, and trust. It was insanity, and it was beauty.

I quickly went from exceptionally anxious to incredibly overjoyed at my situation. For the next three months, I spent my time cleaning, feeding, and playing with those kids. Every day, I would walk in and suddenly be absorbed into the gleeful screams and hugs of 30 children. The children loved me for who I was, and, in return, I gave them the love that they weren’t receiving at home. To them, I was American father, chio, –which is Portuguese for “uncle”—and brother. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how much I loved them, and how they were like my children.

When the volunteering ended and I flew back to the States, the experience and change in my life didn’t hit me until I lay back in my bed for the first time, crying, realizing what an unexpected miracle Salvador had been for me. The combination of the way I lived, the culture, and the work with the kids mixed together to give me a truly euphoric feeling. I had grown so much as a person, and the way I had gone outside of my comfort zone had allowed me to develop into a man who was ready to take the next step. I was confident, determined, and prepared to move on with my life. It was time to stop dwelling on the mistakes of the past and work towards my goals for the future.

Brazil is what gave me the confidence to start classes at Great Bay Community College as a full time student. Brazil is what gave me the energy and motivation to apply for a job at a software company, rock the interview, and then get the job. Brazil will always be remembered as the place where I blossomed into the man I am today. The friends I made and the experiences I had have helped me understand myself in a way I could never do in high school. I was that kid who had no idea what he was going to do. Now, I feel like an unstoppable force ready to take on the world. I miss my South American friends, Salvador, and the gift they gave me. I can truly say I will always have a bit of a Brazilian soul.

Footnotes:

1 I originally only volunteered at Orfanato Vo Flor, but I also ended up teaching two separate English classes for adults and teenagers (Centro Redentorista Missionary) and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS (CAASAH).
2 A favela is an urban slum in Brazil.

How different our world would be if more “lost and unsure” students could have this type of experience.

 

 

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: November

“What are the top games (online or video games) that can help students learn?”

In order to answer this month’s question, I had to go to the expert–my 10-year-old son. When I asked him which game has taught him the most, without hesitation, he answered Call of Duty. This is what he had to say:

The whole idea behind the game is that you are in a war, and you are fighting for your life. You need to get to the place where the enemy captain is and interrogate him, so you can go on to the next level. Each level gets harder and more confusing.

So the number one thing you need to learn how to do is listen. If you don’t listen carefully to the plan, you won’t know what’s going on. You need to pay attention to what the characters are saying and work as a team. The computer characters teach you battle strategies and how to dodge things in real life. Listening is key because the characters tell you what to do. Following their directions will make sure that you’re successful.

You also need to have a strategy to win the mission, or you will fail automatically. It takes a while to figure it out, but that’s part of the fun. It’s the past experiences that help you succeed, but it gets easier as you learn more about the game and use knowledge from other games. You can also go to YouTube to see how other people have beaten a level.

You need to use math to figure out how far you need to go and how quickly you need to get there before something explodes, or you will die. It’s also tricky because you have to calculate distance while enemies are shooting at you. You need to stay focused on your destination and keep battle strategies in your head the whole time.

The best part about it is it’s just a game. You don’t have to do everything perfectly, so you can try, try again, and eventually you will get everything right.

Another game he mentioned was Minecraft:

Minecraft is also great because in creative mode, you learn how to design buildings and get to look at other people’s creations. In survival mode, you have to battle creatures, so you need to build a fortress to survive the attacks. You learn battle strategies and defense techniques.

Failing is learning in these games and that is part of the fun. I wonder how we can bring that element to the classroom.

Click here to read posts from the other Top 12.

An “Open Letter” to the CDE

Ben FranklinFor those of you not aware what has been happening in Colorado the past few weeks, high-school seniors in Boulder started a mass protest and opt-out movement against the CMAS test seniors were required to take last week. Instead of staying home, these students protested in front of their school; they wrote a letter to the CDE explaining why they refused to take the tests; they created a video expressing their concern for the direction in which education is headed; and they collected food for a food drive in their community. To see the letter on the CDE website and the hundreds of students who signed their names to this document click here. I’m so proud that these students decided to be movers and make things happen!

~Pauline Hawkins

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

We, students in Colorado, value our education, and therefore stand in firm opposition to the Colorado Measure of Academic Success (CMAS) testing program. By doing so, we are in no way, shape, or form, trying to disturb the learning environment at any of our high schools or in Colorado, but rather we hope to initiate dialogue between policymakers and students about issues that directly impact our future and the future of education in Colorado.

This year’s CMAS testing is the pilot of a statewide testing program for high school seniors.  The Colorado Department of Education’s Assessment Unit, which deals with standardized testing, plans to evaluate at the end of this year whether or not this standardized testing program is an effective means of measuring student and teacher progress.  We are concerned that if we fail to act, students will be forced to endure these tests for the foreseeable future.

Our grievances regarding Colorado’s expanded standardized testing program are as follows:

 I. Excessive standardized testing is harmful to our learning.

Standardized testing costs valuable teaching and learning time.  Our school is losing eight hours of class time, the equivalent of eight days of a class curriculum, in order to administer CMAS.  This deprives students of time to connect with their teachers and prepare for tests, such as AP and IB exams, which provide students with the opportunity to receive college credit. The test is particularly difficult for high school seniors, many of whom are in the midst of the college application process around this time of the year.

As high school seniors, we are subject to significant testing fatigue.  Students are mandated to take the CSAP or later TCAP exams from third through tenth grade, and the ACT in eleventh grade.  Many high school seniors are in the midst of SAT and SAT subject tests, which, unlike CMAS, have a bearing on students’ future success. At this point, we, who value our education and postsecondary readiness, feel that our time has been disrespected by policymakers who treat standardized tests, in which students had no input,  as a fix-all solution to our education system.

Furthermore, schools spend weeks organizing testing schedules, which forces administrators to prioritize standardized testing over needs of the school and the student body.  Adding more standardized testing only worsens this problem, a reduction of learning time for testing does not better education.

 

II. The CMAS standards do not represent the material taught in Colorado high schools.

The current CMAS tests do not parallel Colorado’s high school curriculum.  Colorado high school students are required to take only three years of a social studies; therefore many students do not take social studies during their senior year. The CMAS social studies test includes an economics section, but economics is not a required course for high school students in the state of Colorado. Testing someone on something they do not know, will not teach administrators anything. The goal of CMAS is to gauge our learning, but this is not possible when we have not learned, or been required to learn, what is on the test.

 

III. Studies have repeatedly shown that standardized testing does not accurately measure teacher or student performance.

Standardized testing has never been an accurate measure of student or teacher performance, and there is no reason to expect CMAS to diverge from the trend.

Firstly, standardized testing forces teachers to “teach to the test,” thereby neglecting students’ individualized needs.  The content of standardized testing rarely reflects the content that students are learning.  One student remarked: “As a sophomore, I was taking precalc. When I came along to the Math TCAP and was asked to make histograms, I had completely forgotten them, because it was something I hadn’t learned since sixth grade.” Exams shouldn’t punish students for being above the “standard” level, but unfortunately that’s what standardized testing in Colorado has done.

Moreover, standardized testing unfairly punishes low income school districts.  Alfie Kohn, who has written extensively about parenting and education, writes: “Research has repeatedly found that the amount of poverty in the communities where schools are located, along with other variables having nothing to do with what happens in classrooms, accounts for the great majority of the difference in test scores from one area to the next.”[1]  When looking at the CMAS testing scenario, it is easy to see why this occurs. Pearson, the for-profit corporation that created the CMAS tests, recommends that schools purchase their textbooks in order to help students prepare.  For low-income school districts, this is often impossible.[2]

CMAS appears to hold true to these same problems, and thus does not provide a sound method to evaluate schools or teachers.  For example, the CMAS social studies exam tests students in geography, government, economics, and history.  Since these subjects are based primarily on recalling facts, this is not a measure of the teachers ability to teach, but the students ability to remember; thus, it is unfair to fund schools based on these measures. According to Lauren Resnick, a leading cognitive scientist, “They [standardized tests] tend to be contrived exercises that measure how much students have managed to cram into short-term memory. Even the exceptions–questions that test the ability to reason–generally fail to offer students the opportunity “to carry out extended analyses, to solve open-ended problems, or to display command of complex relationships, although these abilities are at the heart of higher-order competence.” For example, at our high school, government and geography are taught freshman year.   If students don’t show proficiency in these subjects, it is not because our teachers are lacking, but because we have not covered the content in three years. Given that different schools have different curriculums and different scheduling, it is hard to see how the tests will accurately measure teacher or student performance.

IV. We as students are subjected to these tests at the same time as Colorado is seeing cuts in education funding.

Colorado schools are currently facing funding shortages, and spending more on standardized tests only adds to the deficit. Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution mandated the legislature to annually increase the funding for schools. The amendment stated that the amount of funding a school received would be calculated from a base amount, plus more funding due to “factors,” or variables such as school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of “at-risk” kids.  The amendment mandated that this amount must be increased  by at least inflation plus 1% until 2010, and then by at least the rate of inflation after 2010.[4] However, since the 2008 recession, lawmakers have repeatedly used a loophole in the law called the “negative factor.”  Rather than include the factors in calculating school funding, lawmakers allocated funding based solely off the base amount; thus, school funding actually decreased.[5] Furthermore, the number of students enrolled in Colorado’s public schools system has increased significantly since Amendment 23 was passed.  When adjusting for inflation, Colorado spent 6% less per student in the 2014 fiscal year than it did in the 2008 fiscal year.[6]

While Colorado has cut spending for schools, it continues to spend tens of millions of dollars on standardized testing each year.[7]  While some funding for CMAS came from the federal government, the costs of administering the test comes from the state taxpayers’ pockets.

As students, we believe this is an unfair arrangement.  We have been subjected to larger class sizes, cuts to art, music, and extracurricular activities, and fewer opportunities in school.  Our reward for putting up with these difficulties is more standardized testing with questionable purposes and monetary costs.

V. The CMAS standards are created by a for-profit corporation, not educators.

While the state allocates less funds toward education, it is spending plenty on standardized tests.  Pearson is a for-profit corporation that makes its profit from standardized testing in states such as Colorado.  In 2013, it achieved sales of over nine billion dollars, 60% of which came from the United States.[8]

Despite these immense resources, Pearson has hardly been error-proof:

  • In 2009, Pearson was forced to pay $9.5 million to the state of Wyoming for “complete default of the contract” after the roll-out of computerized testing failed.[9]
  • In 2013, incorrect scoring on a Pearson test for entrance into gifted and talented programs in New York City led to 13% of children being erroneously rejected from the program.[10]
  • In multiple cases, Pearson has failed to report scores on time, resulting in delays and questions concerning the accuracy of the data eventually reported.[11]

Furthermore, Pearson uses a huge education lobby network to implement standardized testing across the nation.  According to Alan Singer, education professor at Hofstra University, “Pearson’s non-for-profit foundation has paid local and state education commissioners whose schools do business with the for-profit Pearson corporation to attend international conferences in Rio de Janeiro, London, Singapore, and Helsinki, where they meet with Pearson executives.”[12] Additionally, according to the CMAS website from the Colorado Department of Education, Pearson actively encourages schools to “better prepare” for standardized testing by buying Pearson-produced textbooks. It seems that Pearson uses standardized testing not to benefit our education, but to increase their profits. We do not want our education to be used as a tool to line corporate pockets. Only Pearson stands to gain from these tests, but we lose valuable school hours and Colorado taxpayers’ money goes to waste.

If the creators of CMAS really believe in the importance of education, then they need to take a step back from test scores and look at what kids are learning. We believe that the funding and resources that are allocated to standardized tests could be more effectively used to enrich the school courses themselves to be more interactive and engaging.  This relocation of resources will ensure, more so than CMAS will, that students are successful in meeting academic standards and, more importantly, in learning.

Rather than standardized tests, let’s have smaller class sizes.  Let’s fund art and music classes.  Let’s have a conversation about education policy that includes the people who are most affected by it.  Let’s make a commitment to future Colorado students that their learning and their future are more important than their testing.

We hope that you will consider and understand that the actions we take to protest the CMAS, are not meant to disrupt our learning, but represent our responsibility to protect our education and the future of education in Colorado.

Signed,

The students of Colorado

 

Endnotes

[1] Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[2] Broussard, Meredith. “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing.” The Atlantic. N.p. 15 July 2014. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-cant-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/.>

[3]Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[4] “Learning Together: Assessing Colorado’s K-12 Education System.” Center for Education Policy Analysis at the Graduate School of Public Affairs. University of Colorado at Denver. October 2006. Web. Accessed October 22, 2014. <http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/SPA/BuechnerInstitute/Centers/CEPA/Publications/Documents/LearningTogether.Oct%2006.pdf.>

[5] Torres, Zahira. “Group suing Colorado over $1 billion cut in school funding.” The Denver Post. N.p. 27 June 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26046666/group-files-suit-against-colorado-over-school-funding.>

[6] Leachman, Michael and Chris Mai. “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. N.p. 20 May 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011.>

[7] Wetzel, Mike. “Colorado teachers concerned by excessive testing.” Colorado Education Association. N.p. 18 February 2014. Web. Accessed 23 October 2014. <http://www.coloradoea.org/resources/association-news/2014/02/19/testing.&gt;

[8] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

[9] Solochek, Jeff. “Pearson problems nothing new in testing world.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 18 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/pearson-problems-nothing-new-testing-world.>

[10] Figueroa, Alyssa. “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests.” AlterNet. N.p. 6 August 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests.>

[11] Solochek, Jeff. “Problems, problems everywhere with Pearson’s testing system.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 17 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/problems-problems-everywhere-pearsons-testing-system.>

[12] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

A Student’s Perspective: Common Core: One Size Does Not Fit All

Our students know what they need; we need to find a way to get their voices heard.

By Gina Galjour

Imagine an education system in which a student’s knowledge is evaluated by a set of fifty questions, a system in which the federal government decides what students need to know at the end of the year—an education without representation. With common core, that vision could become a reality. Centralizing the education system is most definitely not the answer to strengthening America’s education.

Common core is basically the federalization of education. Instead of the local and state governments deciding what education plan their communities should follow, federal officials determine the whole nation’s education by a list of standards. The K-12 standards describe what a student should know at the end of each grade. This can be beneficial to teachers and students, as they know they are teaching and learning the right information, but the standards can be ridiculously low or ridiculously high. One of the Kindergarten common core standards is:

“Analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts (e.g., number of sides and vertices/“corners”) and other attributes (e.g., having sides of equal length)” (CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.B.4).

In Kindergarten, the majority of children do not know how to read and write proficiently, much less describe the vertices of a three-dimensional shape. It is not the federal government’s place to determine what a student should and should not know. Students should be allowed to receive help when necessary and also have the opportunity to go beyond the lesson plan. Centralizing education may help raise some schools’ standards, but it may also lower others. Each community is different and should have their own standards in order to improve a student’s education and allow him/her to excel.

With Common Core, there is no “why” involved. Why does a first grader need to know how to draw three-dimensional shapes? Teachers teach what they are required to prepare for the national standardized test. With this “teach the test” approach, students are merely memorizing the information, not learning it.  Likewise, standardized tests do not measure several important things a teacher would see in school such as the work ethic and improvement of students. Standardized testing would not recognize the improvement students would have made throughout the year, leaving them feeling unaccomplished.

One Size Does Not Fit AllCommon Core is a false utopia, a seemingly perfect society in which students learn the same and have the same learning environment. But, everyone learns and does everything differently. People are not robots; one size will never fit all and centralizing education is not the answer.

Sources:

http://www.freedomworks.org/content/top-10-reasons-oppose-common-core

https://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/Curriculum/CurrDet/TabId/186/ArtMID/793/ArticleID/140/Common-Core-Good-Bad-Possible.aspx

http://www.corestandards.org/

A Student’s Perspective. My students have a lot to say about the current education system. Instead of telling you how they feel, I decided to let them speak for themselves. Some articles originally appeared in The LHS Revolution (thelhsrevolution.com); others are created specifically for this blog. Their parents have signed permission forms to share their work here. Read, comment, question, but remember they are students; be respectful. Thank you, Pauline Hawkins

The Faults in Our Education System: A Student’s Perspective

A Student’s Perspective. My students have a lot to say about the current education system. Instead of telling you how they feel, I decided to let them speak for themselves. 

I will not beBy Mariya Pinchuk

In a world filled with radiant colors, the students remain black and white; their canvases stripped of all personalization. Confined between four walls and a closed door, stressed out teenagers are forced to make a choice between their grades and knowledge. School has extinguished the desire to learn. Instead of opening the growing adolescent’s eyes to the world outside, the education that we are provided sheds minimal exposure when it comes to understanding material. When students enter high school, they are immediately stripped of their personal styles of writing, art, and expression. If we do not succeed in a certain area or subject, we spend the rest of our years believing that we are failures and begin to believe that we will never accomplish anything in our lives. We are taught that every person is a unique individual; however, school attempts to make all of the students the same.

The key to success is memorization. The common core does not make a difference when it comes to learning; math, history, science, and literature do not test for ability, but rather how well a student is able to memorize and recite the given material. Schools are trying to educate the children on how to succeed in the 21st century, but the standards are set by adults who were educated in a completely different manner. The past and the present are incomparable time periods. Education has to change accordingly. So how are we as students expected to be successful when we are forced to disregard our personal talents and focus on receiving a degree, which does not even guarantee us a future career?

Students are blamed for being too distracted and having no interest in school. The adult solution is to placate the kids with pills or subdue them with punishment. There is so much more to the world than what we are expected to learn inside of the classroom, and that is why students question what impact trigonometry or committing the periodic table to memory will have in their future.

We strive for rebirth, but are rewarded with destruction in the form of a letter grade. Schools label the students with flashing numbers and letters. We are compared to each other based on our grades and how well we are able to regurgitate the information that teachers assign. Kids who are naturally built with intelligence feel insignificant simply because they cannot excel in all areas. There is no given average anymore; the average grade “C” has become a failing grade in the minds of students and teachers alike. We are all programmed to strive for an “A” or a 4.0. Students live as numbers and letters. Some would rather cheat and lie just so that they can pass a class and receive the socially acceptable grades needed.

Teenagers struggle with mental health issues and anxiety but are ignored because this is not considered a “valid” reason to not attend class. Mental health issues have been grouped and shoved into a corner, and labeled as just stress, when there is so much more to them. How is a student expected to aspire when he is forced to complete hours of material in order to achieve a passing grade, and in the process feel suicidal because he is not allowed to learn at his own personal level of capability?

The American Education system strives to become similar to other countries. The attempt to copy and paste certain techniques into our own system is not a practical way of learning. Students around the world learn differently, and therefore we should not be motivated to change our system to fit into the mold. Instead, we should utilize the skills that our young adults possess and in that sense, customize our own way of instruction.

We are not being educated through our talents, but instead only downgraded for our faults. We are putting our students to sleep through an anesthetic educational procedure instead of opening them up to the universes that they possess inside of them. There is an invalid supposition: The most important aspect that children share is how old they are, which is why students are grouped into grade levels instead of levels of capability. We are told that there is only one answer in certain subjects, such as math, which resides in the back of the textbook, instead of the endless possibilities that our minds are all capable of generating.

Education has become a business; it is no longer about the students or the teachers. Standardized testing reduces a student into a test score rather than a person of value and individuality. Education has divested young adults of their voices, and maybe that is why we cannot speak up for ourselves anymore. I may be one person, and to the school I may be just a GPA, but I cannot be stifled because I have learned something during high school: No one can quench my voice if I allow myself to be heard.

This is me, taking a stand, and I will not give up. I will not be silenced any longer.

Some articles originally appeared in The LHS Revolution (thelhsrevolution.com); others are created specifically for this blog. Their parents have signed permission forms to share their work here. Read, comment, question, but remember they are students; be respectful. Thank you, Pauline Hawkins