Friday, May 27, 2016

If Education is the Key, Then School is the Lock

Image Source: User Stevepd,

I noticed this quote scribbled among others running up and down my student’s arm. I get this because I too used to doodle all over my hands and arms. The nuns would glance over to a whole sleeve of ink and yell at me to wash it off. “We are going to call your mother!” That was eighth grade. My student is in sixth.

I am not alarmed. Kids do this stuff. I turned out okay. I was, however, struck by the profound nature of the quote. The words meant something to the kid. Quite the mature observation, I thought. I asked her about it. I told her that I kinda agree with her. Sometimes we do a lousy job. I get it. I tried to spark a discussion, but she wasn’t interested. She said she made the words up (she probably didn’t).

 The student was trying to say something. It was her way of silent protest. She is smart enough to understand the quote. She is smart enough to know that this whole school thing is a game she is currently not interested in playing. I know this. Some students really don’t like school. It is not hard to understand why.

The student is brilliant, but struggles to complete assignments and turn in work. She is not motivated by the random facts and figures crammed down her head. She loves music. She loves to draw. She loves to analyze. She loves to discuss. She wants to create.

I try to think of assignments that interest her. She spent a month working on a Pokemon comic that explained Plato’s cave. Pretty awesome, I’d say, but then the next month she plugged in her ear phones and listened to music I wish I was cool enough to know.

A few weeks ago, we designed an independent self-study of the Renaissance. By self-study, I mean we found a bunch of Renaissance era music (luckily my advisor has a passion for obscure instruments), and she tasked herself with recreating some tracks on Garageband. This is something I can’t do, but she could. I let go, checked in with her, and tried to provide any material resources I could. I trusted her. What she was doing didn’t look, feel, or even sound like school. She was momentarily free to break the locks schools create.

It was a great moment when some of the faculty listened to her song.

Many years ago, I would have claimed to save this student. Look what I did. I knew how to get through to her. I made her successful. What hubris. Hollywood builds up education to reinforce this savior complex. One constructed on pointing out student weaknesses and deficits, jumping on desks, being super passionate, and waving a magic wand. It’s our job to save kids. We’re superheroes after all. Except that we are aren’t. It doesn’t work like that.

She was the one with the talent, passion, and skill. She had strengths usually guarded under lock and key. I tried to honor her by removing the locks, albeit briefly. This is about care and love.

Care and love must continue even as the same student returns to listening to music in the back of my class, refuses to do notes, or scribbles quotes on her arms during my ‘brilliant’ teaching and ‘magical’ class.

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