This Promise from a first and second grade multiage class fills me with hope. Their collective words—penned in a public school classroom two miles from my home—demonstrate a culture of collaboration, creativity, and community.
I hope for equity in our cities, state, country, and world. I hope that our United States will be the welcoming country embodied by the Statue of Liberty. I hope that those tasked with reconciling revenue deficits and funding for essential services will embrace this spirit of collaboration. Most of all, I hope that sharing this Promise from thoughtful, kind, courageous six- to eight-year-old leaders will inspire each of us, particularly elected officials, to model their words.
Missoula held a screening of “Race to Nowhere” during the Replace the Race Nationwide, March 2014 campaign, thanks to the Missoula Forum for Children and Youth, MCCHD Suicide Prevention, MCCHD Tobacco Prevention, Potomac School District No. 11 and United Way of Missoula County.
This powerful documentary about our education system and its challenges presented much food for thought. As I sat in the darkened theater, I was moved by the film and its message and jotted down the following:
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
Six hours of homework a night. Plus soccer.
Looks good for colleges.
He is all about learning to take tests.
People get caught up in the race to nowhere.
Kids are our leaders. Without creativity, they are not going to be prepared to lead us.
Play is a critical part of a child’s growing mind and growing body.
Blue Man Group founder: “Why can’t we have happiness as important a metric as reading skills?”
What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?
“If every day there wasn’t homework, he would love school.” Mother of a 4th grader (in response to a special “no homework” day).
There were numerous gut-wrenching comments I didn’t write down. A fourth grader talking about stress-induced stomach aches. A high school student saying she didn’t eat because, by not eating, she could concentrate so much better. Conversations about drug use—Adderall to stay up, sedatives to come down; about cutting; about not sleeping, or sleeping only a few hours; about over-scheduled students of all ages; about suicide; about stress-related ER visits and hospital admissions; and about teacher burnout. It was heartbreaking to hear passionate, skilled educators speak about the pressures to teach toward test results, critical thinking skills be damned. Sadly, but understandably, our system is pushing some of these educators out.
Students spoke about the stresses imposed upon them by parents, by teachers, by the pursuit of admission to “top schools.” I was reminded of a conversation I had with my younger son at the beginning of his sophomore year. “Why don’t you join Key Club? It’d look good on college applications,” I said, certain the latter would be a selling point. He replied, “How many times are you going to tell me that?” I made a silent pledge that would be the last.
And it was.
According to a recent Washington Post article, “Local [McLean, VA] school board representative Jane Strauss says she is routinely contacted by parents asking how to prepare their 2-year-olds for a test to get into the Advanced Academic Program for gifted students in third grade.”
Is this what we want for our kids?
I don’t think so.
I do know this. When seniors come into our high school library to get signed off this June, I won’t be asking, “What’s on your horizon?” I don’t want them to think I’m assigning values to their lives-beyond-high-school. And whether they’ll be taking time off; joining the workforce; or going to a community college, a state-funded university, a private or an Ivy League school; my wish for them will be the same. “Congratulations. Take good care.”