Saturday, July 18, 2015

Superheroes Don't Exist, But You Do

"Not every one is like you."

Today is the first official day of ILA15 and the statement above seems to be the underlying theme that I am hearing, experiencing, and discussing formally and informally. The stories told by Shiza Shahid from her childhood in Pakistan to cofounding the Malala Fund in order to advocate for education for every student spun me into introspection. 

Many of us work with high needs students by choice. Where I am teaching, we have both ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Our students go home to lives that are not our own reality...and we, as their teachers, need to be aware of that. Even students labeled "high needs" lead sheltered lives compared to their global peers; in spite of being involved in social media, they still often remain disconnected from global events. They live under the assumption (as do many of us) that the 11 and 12 year olds on the other side of the world have the same privileges and civil rights.

I couldn't help but wonder, as educators, isn't it our responsibility to make them not just globally aware, but provide opportunities for them to put their compassion, empathy, and talents to use? The books that we read, projects they create, and conversations we have should include a global view of our world. Not every child will respond to every book, article, or video we share, but they still need to have those experiences to gain a sense of themselves in the perspective of the world in which we live.

I often hear that students are apathetic when it comes to learning. However, when students are asked what they want to get out of their education, thei
r answer usually is "to make a difference in the world." How can we meet that need if we shy away from the cotton candy world that so many of our students live in? Students need to know what is going on in the world. They need time to read about others who may not look like them, talk like them, or have the same beliefs. If they don't have that empathy or understanding for others, how can they ever turn their dream of using an education to make the world a better place into a reality? 

I must admit that is an area where I have learned much from my students this school year. This year our entire student body embraced a global project. They learned of a school in the Ikota village of Nigeria. In spite of receiving an excellent education, and privately funded scholarships (because school is not free in Nigeria) they didn't have a permanent structure. Their learning was done in bamboo structures and metal shipping containers on the village's dump. Our middle school students ran a campaign, educated others, shared learning with their Nigerian peers, and raised funds to put towards building them a structure which would allow for twice as many students to receive an education. These middle school students saw an opportunity and jumped in to make a difference. 

Sometimes the best thing that we can do for our students is to step out of the way and let them lead. It was exciting to watch them grow and change with the choices they were making. At no time did our students refer to themselves as "saving" their peers on another continent. They looked at it as a privilege and an honor to connect with these students and put their talents to use to impact the lives of those students and their community. 

When I reflect on what I've heard today and experienced with my students, I know that this year I need to be diligent in not only exposing them to the lives of others through the stories we read,and the classes with whom we collaborate, but also staying open when a student shows an interest in making a change in the world. As Shiza said, "we can't wait for superheroes to come and change the world. They don't exist, but YOU do."