“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Read that carefully – “all men are created equal.” We teach those words to our students in our government classes, yet we sort them by ability, label them, and treat them unequally in our classrooms.
In the past we stood in front of our classes and delivered information. Some students were able to learn at the rate at which we lectured and we labeled them as “the smart ones.” We praised their intelligence and sent them off to college to prove their worth.
Some students learned less quickly and were labeled as “average.” We patted them on the back and put them to work in factories and businesses and told them they we doing noble work. We told them college wasn’t for everyone.
Some students struggled and we labeled them as “slow learners.” We quietly moved them into jobs “suited to their abilities” and congratulated ourselves for doing what we could for “those people.”
I dream of a time and classrooms that are different. I dream of a time when we recognize that all students are capable of academic growth and excellence. I have a vision of classrooms that no longer sort students, but rather support students in their education.
What if, instead of telling and testing, we teach them to take risks and love learning? What if, instead of judging them and blaming them, we listen to them and believe in them?
We may concede that not everyone has an equal start in life; not everyone has equal assets or connections or wealth. What if we teach our students that equal wealth and success is not a right? What if instead we instill in them the belief that they all have the potential to succeed? What if we teach them that hard work and consistent effort can ultimately result in them achieving the goals they set for themselves?
Martin Luther King stated, “Their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Is it an overstatement that the success of our nation is inextricably bound to the success of the students we serve?
As educators, we too face the difficulties of today and tomorrow. There is poverty. There are parents who are absent and inattentive. We have students who are abused and neglected. There is blame and finger-pointing and many reasons why educating students today is hard…
What if we work toward a day when our students are not judged by their shortcomings but instead recognized as having potential? What if we change the way we teach to better support all of our students? What if we “transform the jangling discords” of education “into a beautiful symphony” of learning?
I am not a great teacher. I make many mistakes. Like my students, I have shortcomings. Like my students, I also have potential. I can improve my practice. I can make a difference.
I have a dream that, along with other educators, we can work together, struggle together, and stand up for students together, knowing that one day we will change the meaning of education.