Become a Better Human.

My 15 year old daughter started a blog. A blog to encourage and empower teens based on her experiences and views of the world. Her second post is titled, “…like a girl.” In it, she talks about the negative impact the statement “like a girl” has on girls, and that girls are just as “strong and capable of anything as males are.” It was a positive message of self-worth.

And yet, within an hour of sharing it on my Facebook page, it was attacked. In one comment, she was told that “men are stronger than women and she should face the facts of biology.” Other, similar comments followed.

IMG_0379 3The dominant male voice was, ironically, reinforcing my daughter’s point: “Together as women, we are intelligent, beautiful, and powerful human beings that shouldn’t be trampled on by derogatory expressions.” His messages, even when couched in conciliatory statements like “Don’t get me wrong, great intent…”  sought to silence a young girl sharing her voice of empowerment by asserting superiority.

One thing I have learned from the voices rising up after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting is that there are people who assume power comes hand-in-hand with freedom, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to silence any oppositional voice.

Our society defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” That’s the biggest paradox of freedom: if nothing restraints how each person behaves, it will be absolute chaos. The bully would be free to enslave the meek. It will eventually mean that only those at the top are free, and those at the bottom — the weak — are not.
Freedom is Not About Speaking Up but Choosing to be Silent

Our mission, as educators, is to build empathy and facilitate student voice and agency so they can positively advance the world. We want them to be, we need them to be, good humans. Better humans. Empathetic humans.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela

Making Lunch Great Again!

I had the pleasure of listening to 5th grade students share their proposals to relaunch the lunch experience at their school. There were a few issues that the students were looking to solve:

  • Students who get hot lunch need healthy, delicious food choices everyday to include vegetarian choices in order to avoid food and money waste and get nutrition for the rest of the day
  • Students need more time in order to play, eat, line up, and transition to be relaxed.
  • Students need choices and flexibility in seating in order to feel valued, respected, and trusted.
  • Students need a way to change the music at lunch in order to have amore enjoyable lunch experience.

Regardless of the need being solved, a theme quickly emerged – Agency. Or lack thereof.

One student explained in his presentation: “In the classroom we are always told to be ‘Be quiet!’ by the teacher. And then at lunch we are told to ‘Be quiet!’ by the lunch aides. When do we get to unwind and let our energy out?”

Another student shared that “KidzBop is dreadful,” so as a reward for behaving, it is truly missing the mark.

Other students shared that the playground should be a place to play freely, and not be limited in choices by the adults supervising the area.

And when it came to food, many were in agreement that having parents place orders at the start of the month did little to satisfy their taste buds later in the month.

Regardless of the need being solved, a theme quickly emerged during the presentations – Agency. Or lack thereof. These students wanted to have input into the routines impacting their day. They wanted choice. They wanted freedom. They wanted voice.

My Post (3)

Their proposals were all awesome: Music committees to analyze lyrics of songs requested by students so as to create playlists; student-generated rules to provide equitable access to playground; and healthy food vending machines that not only provide choice, but also generate revenue for the campus.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. If they are to lead well, we must give them opportunity to develop agency. You never know… they just may do a better job than we are!

P.S. I’ll be excited to hear what changes result! Final presentations are next week, right before Spring Break. Stay tuned…

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Empathy + Action = Activist

The other day I walked in to the art classroom at one of our elementary schools. Third graders were on a mission.

As artists, how might we use our creative voices to affect change in

  • our school?
  • our community?
  • our world?

Specifically:

To get humans to use less plastic and/or dispose of plastic properly to protect our ocean creatures.

In order to tell the story of plastic’s toxic impact on the ocean, students planned a public art piece depicting the ocean, with the creatures and such made of plastic. It was ambitious, and meaningful. And they needed the help of the art teacher.

When I entered the classroom, it was hard to even find the art teacher. She wasn’t in front teaching the class. She was sitting with a group of students, encouraging them, inspiring them, and helping them turn their vision in to a reality. Other students were spread around the room working with different tools: saws, drills, paints, wire.

I also couldn’t find the classroom teacher! Oh wait…there she is. Not monitoring the room, or sitting in the corner grading papers, but she was making art right there with the students. With her goggles on. As equals.

Each student I talked to knew not only what he or she was creating and how it would tie in to the art piece, but each student also described for me why this art piece was important. I was told about jellyfish dying with plastic wrapped around them and dead fish full of plastic in their stomach. They asked me about my plastic usage, and if I knew how much of what I used would end up floating in the ocean.

They had a reason for their art. A passion for their art. Activists for a cause important to them.

It was truly a moment when I said, “Yes! This is what learning should be like for students every day!”

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