Dear Student Letter

Posting this “Dear Students” letter to keep it in my list.  She has great one-liners, such as

I’m sorry that you are forced to sit for six hours each school-day despite research that reveals the detrimental cognitive and health effects of excessive sitting.

This teacher puts into words what I feel, but cannot say — not being a teacher. It’s what I’ve seen happen to my daughter, in particular, as she went through a traditional high school setting. Of course, she needs to take some responsibility for her own education, but watching these last four years has given me an entirely new perspective on the kids who don’t appear engaged in school.

My personal world view held (past tense) that academics were the be all and end all. The measure of success was your GPA, where you went to college, etc.  Of course, you’d be engaged in school and get As. Kids who didn’t were just lazy.

Watching my daughter’s journey through school, especially high school, has changed my perspective tremendously. A kid who is “shut down”, doesn’t do homework or participate in class likely has a very good reason. It may be the “problems at home” excuse we hear about. This is certainly a legitimate reason and a very real situation for many students.

The one reason I’ve never heard from her school is “problems with school” — not that my daughter is having problems in school, but that the school set up itself is the problem. No one has ever suggested that the reason she’s shut down and not engaged is because the school atmosphere is overwhelming (2000+ kids in one space for 6 hours?) or that the emphasis on test prep (be it the state tests or AP tests) might lead to a type of learning that is not enticing beyond the drive to get a 4.0 GPA.  Could it be some of the reasons mentioned in the Dear Student letter?

My daughter with ADHD and dyslexia became a classic shut-down learner (see Dr. Richard Selznick’s writings for more) after 9th grade, and totally shut down after 10th. School was (continues to be) a major (I’d say THE) contributing factor in depression and anxiety issues. Yet, right now, she is directing a full-length student produced musical with 70 cast members. She has the entire show blocked in her head — exactly where 70 kids will be on stage, how she wants the songs to sound, the set to look and more. She’s actively making decisions, working with a production team of peers, and directing a cast of her peers (much harder than an adult directing high school kids). She was forced to choose between two best friends for the lead. Frankly, I think this is a tremendous learning experience — and honestly, more valuable life skills than some of the academic work.

I don’t buy the “blame the victim” attitude that it’s all her fault that she’s not engaged in school. (And that is what I often hear. Most of her teachers have been caring and understanding, but the system does not allow for any flexibility unless one pushes VERY hard. That’s a topic for another post.) I certainly couldn’t tolerate the conditions in which she has endure  to be at school. It’s true that some kids thrive in school — which is awesome. But, just because some kids look and act like they don’t care does not mean they are bad kids or not worth it. Look deeper — there’s likely a pretty valid reason and we owe it to these kids to meet their needs. Maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth our time to make some of these bigger, systemic changes like mentioned in the Dear Student letter that would mean all learners would be engaged, have a positive experience, and grow into thoughtful, caring and successful adults.

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